Poet Project: Lisa Zaran
“To go along dying and singing” ~Cesar Vallejo
In recent times, poetry has been stereotyped as the work of either dusty, deceased scholars or coffee shop hipsters. Rarely does the average American teenager peruse the vast collection of modern poetry, for their desires span from the need for a quote to post on Facebook to Sparknoting a verse of Shakespeare. However, Lisa Zaran has bridged the gap between modern society and art through her honest portrayals of the human experience. Zaran’s work is not for everyone, and this is what makes her poetry shine; if the reader has experienced the despair and resignation that Zaran depicts, the poem resonates. If not, too bad; art is not meant to please the masses.
Lisa Zaran was born on September 26, 1969 as Lisa Marie Hoie to Norwegian Leonhard Hoie and an American-Norwegian Joan Ablett, the middle child of four. At age 6, Zaran had already begun to emit writing prowess with her first poem, titled “Hallway,” then continued to progress with anonymous submissions to her local newspaper throughout high school. Though she was inspired by both musical and poetic influences—ranging from Mozart and the Beatles to the Bible and Thoreau—Zaran’s beginnings trace back to listening to her brother’s music through the door, suggesting a curious and intrinsic personality.
In 1990, Lisa Hoie became Lisa Zaran, which consequently produced two children. Zaran began to expand into writing professionally with “the sometimes girl” during this time, critically acclaimed as “intensely personal and honest.” Since then, the poet has been studied and read by over twenty schools, from kindergarten to college levels, and has even expanded to translations by some of Germany’s lower and middle-level schools, proving her work has some literary merit via its wide educational dispersement.
In the majority of her poems, Zaran exhibits common themes of loss, withdrawal, despair, depression, and resignation, Her dismal tones often have hints of humor about them; for example, in Dreams, Zaran writes: “Every fool that passes by smiles up at me/ I drip ashes on them.” However, depression and suicidal tendencies are a difficult subject to comprehend without first-hand familiarity, perhaps explaining the difficulty some sheltered and/or insensitively inclined readers experience when vainly attempting to dissect the poem. Her work is similar to Plath’s Metaphors, a poem on the labors of pregnancy, which targets a specific audience. How We Are by Zaran acts as a stream of consciousness struggle through her father’s death, reflecting on both the past and the present: “My father’s voice…forget that I’m dead and if you can not do that then pretend…Perhaps I don’t want to stand and pretend.” Zaran’s purpose appears to be both a comparison for suffering readers and a cathartic release of inner conflict, which lacks the literary intent that works of merit tend to possess.
Despite her limited audience, Zaran does employ a variety of literary devices. The majority of Zaran’s poems contain vast amounts of anaphora, alliteration, and inverted/repeated syntax. “This is the wet blanket air of midnight/ This is the incremental hour/ This is the plastic placemat of time/This is tabletop dream time” (Dreams). Her focus on repetition and pronounced syllables drive in the theme she desires to portray, as well as creating tension. Critics of Zaran’s work feel that her poems lack the climax and resolution desired from the build-up of said tension; however, in the eyes of a fellow victim of depression, Zaran’s work effectively communicates the ongoing, unyielding despair that life entails. While Zaran utilizes metaphors—particularly extended ones, as seen in her poem Subtraction Flower, a reflection on love’s effect on women—they lack originality. Zaran relies on allusions and analogies in her poetry, emphasizing life’s repetitive, constant sameness.
Zaran does indeed deviate from depression, however, in her tangent focus on feminism. Though she applies the same ethos and pathos as used for depression in other poems, there is a biting, accusatory tone to some of her works. “My father once told me… Keep quiet but knowthe language/of your conscience. Tell the truth, go there. Avoid darkness. Leave midnight to your husband. Become a domestic animal” is found in Padlocks, portraying the demeaning role women are stereotyped to play. “Oh, but darling, my father was wrong. Midnight comes peeping through the curtains and I’m interested. I don’t want to separate the light from the dark. I want to endure the same tortures. I don’t want to martyr. I don’t want to make a soufflé.” Zaran’s reply plays on the tradition of women’s association with cooking and innocence, denying the authority of her father and thereby defending her human rights. Unfortunately, in Subtraction Flower, Zaran attacks men, saying they “have been solitary for ages/ carrying the stoniest of hearts.” While the poem is insightful and creative in its extended metaphor of the woman flower, her inability to break from the stereotype of men being insensitive shows bias and therefore discredits her work.
Though image-laden and emotionally stimulating, Zaran is not yet to the point of being classified as a poet of literary merit. However, her talent for capturing an emotion or experience is incomparable; in some ways, her talent exceeds literary greats of the past. Once she reaches the point of artistic unity—which is an arduous task in the world of poetry—Zaran too may be among the writers she once idolized.