Julia Lisella’s new collection, Our Lively Kingdom, is beautiful from the cover onward. In the second poem, “Long Distance,” she doesn’t just place us in her world, but she connects to the world at large.
I listen to him
listen to me over the cell phone line
a low shwoosh of small stories
meant to close a gap in time we’ll have
when I return. (12)
We have all felt this way at one time or another. We are wholly in her care when she takes us a few lines down:
I watched a bird darting in the underbrush
as I tell him a story of our daughters
phone call time.
He responds by telling me he is staring
Out the back window for our kitchen
at our dog on our porch who is staring
at a bird
in our backyard. (12)
There is a connection that can be felt between humanity and nature. We are once in the world of their discussion—husband and wife or parents of the same child–but then she branches out into nature and other things that connect us all.
Some major themes in the collection include family, nature, the home, self-reflection, roots and childhood, and academia. Her enjambments and formatting are interesting and exciting because she really makes you wonder why she chose this or that spacing. A few of the poems are about really painful losses like in “Last Visit”:
I didn’t want my
shock to be her mirror, but she must have known I knew it
And then we said goodbye” (61).
Death comes up a lot in the collection. In “End of Semester Visit From My Student and We Speak About Death,” she writes:
I tell her about calling
my phantom father
when I’m driving home from work,
forgetting he is dead (72).
Most of the poems in section 4 are about the pandemic specifically and how we as a society dealt with that. In “The Poets Are Writing About Birds,” she says:
Everyone is writing about birds
flying, or their bones
brittle and smooth, frail, buried, splintered, their bones
or their feathers lost
among wet leaves. Floating.
It’s as is in quarantine
they thihnk they have [finally] have something
with the starling caught in someone’s attic or rather
they remember desire as a way
to distinguish themselves (84).
She has several other pandemic-related works in the collection like, “I Buried the Virus in a Time Machine,” “Poem for My Daughter in the Pandemic,” and “Cleaning the Groceries in the Time of COVID-19.” The poems in this collection have varied themes but one overarching idea: survival. I think that’s fitting for a collection which was written in and focuses on the pandemic, illness, and that feeling of being trapped. A bird wants to be free. That’s what embodies Julia Lisella’s new collection. If you are looking to take a deep dive into your own heart and your connections with other humans and with the earth itself, you definitely want to grab a copy of Our Lively Kingdom.