by Susan Terris
Susan Terris is a poet of tensile, particular language and fearless investigation. In this far-reaching book, Terris’s gifts of superb observation and word-craft turn in multiple directions — into the myths, stories and realities of childhood; into the myths, stories and rendered lives of figures from science, history, and the arts; into the myths, stories, and (sur)realities of personal experience. This book holds the manyness of selves, both intimate and enlarging; it is also a book of connection, world witness, self-witness, and imaginative expansion.
– Jane Hirshfield
In Susan Terris’ book of pairings, the ordinary and marvelous often entwine. Adolescent boys and girls are captured in poems both startling and empathetic, as in the photographs of Sally Mann. Women, some fictional and some flesh (Lady Macbeth, Sally Hemings and Virginia Woolf among them), voice wisdoms born of isolation and suffering. Terris releases “several selves” — each a “woman who is not me,” but who, in her unmasking, mirrors a darkly animating and “sin-steeped” aspect of personality. Bestiality, cross-dressing and murder course through this book, but the poems are less sensational than fully alive, allusive, and gripping. “I stand with mouth open,” Terris writes, as she unflinchingly depicts those who are “coupled” and the need for consolation that compels them toward and away from each other. Familiar Tense is a tour de force, impressive in its candor and its craft.
– Michael Waters
As the whorls of a fingerprint mark a singular identity, so with the poems of Susan Terris, whose twisting, whirling lines trace the dissolving trail of a restless self, obsessed, unmoored, “lines of uncertainty arrowing off in all directions.” Hers is a stinging insight, a high energy, diamond-hard compression; a mind unsatisfied, meteoric, myth-seeking, voicing our contemporary “age of un-innocence,” unable to believe in what it needs.
– Eleanor Wilner