Yvonne Zipter's 'The Wordless Lullaby of Crickets'

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday April 4, 2023
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author Yvonne Zipter
author Yvonne Zipter

Author, poet and retired University of Chicago Press manuscript editor Yvonne Zipter has released her captivating new collection of poetry, "The Wordless Lullaby of Crickets." With a penetrating eye for observation and a big heart, Zipter at times seems to wield an invisible sword of truth of sorts. No doubt this poetry book is worthy of a place in the pantheon of LGBTQ literature.

Communicating memories from her childhood, youth and adult years, the poems are always engaging and tend to stay with you, as great poetry often does.

Yvonne Zipter in 2016 with one of her poetry vending machines  

The memorable poem "This is Not My Story," for example, simply shares her reaction to seeing a 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy on the news, picked up by the border patrol wandering alone in the desert. Above and beyond the divisive politics at play, the poet is moved by the deep tragedy of the increasingly common human situation. What hurts one, hurts all, even if many have become insensitive to the truth, and there's no way around it:

"And I am sobbing with him, crying because he is ten and alone,
And I know that fear, the fear of solitude,
the fear of never being found, though I was never
abandoned, let alone in a desert.
And then the pain of knowing his fear asks
all of my other pain to join it, and I am crying for
my dead mother, for my cancer,
For the way the world tries to divide me and the boy..."

In the poem "Turtle Lake," the ending almost startles by its sudden reframing of the reader's point of view. In looking at a photograph from her childhood, she observes that the loss we all experience by the passing of time can actually be seen in the photo if only you allow yourself to see:

"Note that the taker of the picture
has tilted the scene in his lens
so that all the world around us
is spilling away unnoticed."

The ending of "A Short History of the History of Lesbians" provides a window into the lived experience of the women who live "a lifetime spent erasing themselves from their own biographies."

In "Transcendent," too, the poem has the effect of jolting the reader into a new way of seeing. The poem describes a scary night swim she undertook when she was not able to see a thing, and delivers an unexpected ending: "Then I arrow my arms to a sky I cannot see, push aside the water, emerge from the belly of the lake like a newborn, slippery and devouring the air."

The eloquent title of the book, "The Wordless Lullaby of Crickets," is taken from a poem she wrote about hearing crickets while out on a morning walk, and suddenly she finds herself in a reverie of being back in her grandparents' house, where crickets congregate in the basement. But many questions are left unanswered: "...the cool damp of the cinder blocks and concrete preferable to the ashes of a love that had burned so hot once, many years before, it scarred him."

Graceful ease
Zipter specializes in the graceful ease of free verse poems. But at least in one instance, she doesn't give herself enough credit for her literary accomplishments. She writes in the poem irreverently titled "Lifting Barrett Browning's Hem" that she would like to be able to write a sonnet but finds herself unable to. I can't help but notice the poem is written in paragraph form rather than in verse, in flowing musicality that defies the relentless driving (robotic?) lines of iambic pentameter.

Nonetheless, she insists: "Instead, my poems are rambling affairs, unruly hounds of questionable origin, refusing to be pent up in a box and following their noses to some rank or delectable matter (sometimes one thing and the same). They are either stupid or free-spirited, but either way, they have no sense of time."

The poem "Kinship" is a celebration of her finding a kindred spirit in popular culture, Christmas of 1972. Not in heartthrobs Donny, Shaun, or Leif, like the other girls. The author swoons over the most unlikely figure of Don Quixote, spending hours listening to the soundtrack of the hit musical "Man of La Mancha." She felt seen by him, even through the centuries, the dreamer madman, stuck in the era of chivalry long after the world around him had moved on without him.

Yvonne Zipter's previous book of poetry was "Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound." It is about nature in dialogue with human nature. She is also the author of "Infraction," a Russian historical novel with an LGBTQ storyline, as well as two non-fiction books: the very informative "Diamonds are a Dyke's Best Friend" which contains a summary of the history of women's sports (particularly softball) and Title IX, and "Ransacking the Closet," a collection of her syndicated columns that appeared in Outlines, In Step, Philadelphia Gay News, The Weekly News, and The Washington Blade.

In 2020, she was featured in the documentary "A Secret Love" and has contributed to dozens of anthologies. Her poetry collection "The Patience of Metal" was runner-up for the Poetry Society of America's Melville Cane Award, and was a Lambda Literary Award finalist.

In addition, she co-founded both the National Women's Music Festival Writers Conference and "Hot Wire: A Journal of Women's Music and Culture," the first and for 10 years the only lesbian publication of its kind.

Currently, Zipter is advancing another innovation. She sells her published poems to the public in several poetry (gumball) vending machines around the city of Chicago in what has become a successful and growing endeavor. The proceeds go to the non-profit organization Arts Alive Chicago to help upkeep local murals.

"The Wordless Lullaby of Crickets" by Yvonne Zipter, Kelsay Books. $23. www.kelsaybooks.com www.yvonne-zipter.com

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