The Lost Positive
by Elizabeth Strauss Friedman
BlazeVOX [books], 2023
Reviewed by Connie Post
In The Lost Positive, the poet Elizabeth Strauss Friedman beautifully examines the myriad of ways in which women have lost so much, both now and over time. There couldn’t be a more perfect time for this book to find its place in the world. There couldn’t be a more perfect time for this book to find its place in the world, a time when women’s rights are under fire and being taken away, so often, so blatantly. It explores the visible and invisible ways that women have been abused, erased, invalidated, blamed and persecuted. The book accomplishes this in four sections by pairing a constellation with a poem, each tied to mythological significance.
In this way, there is a backstory to each poem, adding more depth and more intriguing complexity.
In the poem “A Formal Space for Grace” (Ara Constellation – Altar), the poet takes an honest look at physical abuse and how the abuser is often lauded, and never asked to atone. In this excerpt, the images speak to the devastation of abuse and its aftermath.
Altars are intentional
Serendipity never creates a formal space for grace –
shaped for blood smears
In another poem, Cul-de-sac (Aquarius Constellation – Water Bearer)
the poem’s opening stanza tells us a familiar story
The car chase commences in search of the boy
abducted by his mother’s boyfriend
What she has, he wants. What he wants
she has no power to grant him
Her son a promise stretching ten miles
farther than his own truncated horizon.
Of course, we see these stories in the news so often, but when you refer to the “Aquarius Constellation” in the back of the book, you will see how the water bearer and little fox both live in the fear of the men they serve. This back story fits as a perfect puzzle piece to this carefully constructed poem.
As I read this book, I returned to a familiar anguish I carry about all of the collective suffering women have endured and how many stories fell through the cracks and were never seen or noticed. Friedman expertly addresses this issue in “There are an Endless Number of Words for Loss”
The poem begins
because it’s woven
I’ve seen it balanced
on the celestial equator
like a ballerina,
brittle bones stop
an electric collection
So I named my apartment
Grief, Loss’s temporary
The consistent way the poet weaves in loss with the cosmic connections, serve the theme exquisitely. In this case, the celestial equator, the one inside ourselves, how we must balance ourselves on our own brittle paths.
There are poems that interrogate the present and how it is almost always connected to our past. In “The Opposite of Easy Listening” Friedman focuses on Tori Amos’s song as titled. (Leo Constellation – Lion). The work here talks about our relevance.
Tori Amos sings “in these jeans of his” but I hear dreams
“in these dreams of his” because I am woman –
a frontage road to his highway, an afterthought
How often are women an afterthought in our world. How often must we fight for our identities, our rights, our needs, and all that we’ve accomplished. This poem reminds us we must continually be a main road, a thoroughfare that can lead us out of society’s darkness.
The Lost Positive has eight images that are well placed in the manuscript. They accentuate the work in the collection. In the poem “Perched” (with an abstract image on the opposite page) the poet tell us
When I die, I want to be made into art
and mailed to those who would not love me
The gorgeous words on these pages truly remind us to love again, to love ourselves and all the selves that have been banished and crumpled.
From the titular poem “The Lost Positive” Friedman reminds us that we must remain
As women out to be,
life outside male invalidation
advertently galloping into stardust
This collection is unflinching in its ability to help us find the woman behind our own curtain, the mythology we are and are not aware of, woven into the constellations. We can be both activist and artist, as this work so stunningly reminds us. We will return to each poem, and it will again tell us tell us “the truth is a circuit, that trips on its own wires.”