Creative Energy from the Homefront: A Review of Permanent Change of Station by Kersten Christianson

sticeLisa Stice’s newest release Permanent Change of Station (Middle West Press LLC, 2018) casts light upon the speaker’s challenges of keeping home(s) while nurturing a young daughter along with a Norwich Terrier companion through various deployments. These charges are set to the institutionalized pace of a military lifestyle.

First, I am struck by the contrasting cover images. Against a turquoise bluebird sky is Mary Stevenson Cassatt’s oil-on-canvas, Little Girl in Blue Armchair. Here is the little girl planning out her next step, tiny dog in tow, catching twenty winks, juxtaposed with a photograph below of a sharp-edged Humvee traversing blank-slated, endless desert (photo credit: Sgt. Conner Robbins). The pairing of the two speaks of frozen motion.

But the true energy is that of Stice’s writing. Organized into three sections (Half-Known Roads, The In-Betweens and Bedtime Stories), she writes not of particular places, but of growth, namely that between a mother and child as they reconcile the comings and goings of a husband and father, and maneuver the uncomfortable terrain of establishing yet another new home in yet another new town.

boxes of melted crayons
melted a little more
inside a moving truck

birthday streamers
still rolled up somewhere
in a box under a box behind a box

locking a door
another last time
with no goodbyes

It’s one thing to have the proverbial junk drawer forever fixed in the kitchen, the drawer that collects the gathered, broken crayons, the end rounds of birthday streamers, the loose rubble. It is another to routinely pack it all up, establish yet another catch-all drawer in a far-flung place to be determined by the military establishment.

It is a life not without objection.

While inviting the reader into this world, Stice ultimately challenges the reader’s own views, especially with her meager-line poems. In “Fifth Choice,” she writes,

I’d be

if I
told you

we get
what we

I can’t tell you how many times I turned back to this page, this neck punch of a poem, to consider again its ramifications, its purpose, its placement. The poem immediately following, “When In Difficult Country,” offers resignation:

we do not know
the mountains

and valleys ahead
we never will

they are earth and stones
just the same

I enjoy much the spontaneity of several poems: “Afternoon One Day When You Were Young,” “Daughter,” and “On Such Little Things Happiness Depends,” among others. Contained within are the unplanned moments that catch even the speaker by surprise. That Sun Tzu and Dr. Seuss are referenced in epigraphs illustrates the dimensionality of Stice’s work.

As with the dueling cover images, Stice writes with the vernacular of a mother and pairs it with the jargon of the military. This, too, is the beauty of her earlier work, Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016). This use of hinged language provides fresh and prodigious reading. Like the Humvee in the cover’s photograph, Stice’s poetry is a also vessel; not one symbolic of war-time, but instead, a creative force.

Stice, Lisa. Permanent Change of Station. Middle West Press, LLC, 2018.

Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, Alaskan. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winter of the Yukon, she lives in Sitka, Alaska. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing (University of Alaska Anchorage).  Kersten has authored two books:  What Caught Ravens Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018) and Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017).  She is also the poetry editor of the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak.  www.kerstenchristianson.com

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