August 2022

Woman Holding a Balance

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce



Balancing family life and writing, creativity and child-raising, the joys and difficulties of being a military spouse: These are not strikingly original themes, but Lisa Stice manages to find beauty and power in writing about them. The words forces (in the title) and balance imaged by the Vermeer painting on the cover exemplify the fine poems to be found in this book.

The collection is divided into sections representing different kinds of forces, "Operational," "Gravitational," Defensive," et al. In a note at the back of the book, Stice explains some of the genesis of and motivation for her writing. "In Forces, I pull inspiration from military jargon, literature, and art. When various aspects of life pull me in different directions, spin me around, or attempt to stop me altogether, finding a way to bring calm and beauty to the chaos gives me strength."

One way to bring order to the chaos is through ritual, as depicted in the opening poem of the collection, "Ritual Hunts."

"Ritual shines

above our design as we crowd

our heads with words….

How we always

place the car keys here,

hang the dog's leash near

the door, turn the lights out

at bedtime."

"Woman Holding a Balance," an ekphrastic poem responding to the cover image, describes a lovely, quiet moment of respite: "behind her:/a healing grace//before her:/value weighed/an equal measure/dignity and decorum."

The need for guidance both spiritual and practical is addressed in "St. Ursula Makes an Appearance" (Ursula being the patron saint of educators and students.

"She tells me, Life is mostly legend anyway.

Go where you are called and later…

you will all tell stories

and the stories will vary from actual events,

but that doesn't matter in the end."

In "Dependants," Stice deals with the fears and isolation felt by the family when her Marine husband is on deployment.

"If, in the night we wake

and think we hear thuds

outside the door

we hold our breaths

silence: is this fear?...

We write to Daddy, send pictures, in emails—

our lives…Will they reach him?"

Two poems pay homage to poetic precursors. One of the standout poems for me—perhaps because I too revere Emily Dickinson—is "Seamus and I Meet the Ghosts of Carlo and Emily Dickinson." (Seamus is Stice's Norwich Terrier and Carlo was Miss Dickinson's canine companion.) The brief encounter described is charming and moving.

Seamus also figures in a poem, "Reading Szymborska During a Snow Storm," about another of the poet's foremothers and an abortive attempt to act on an inspiration suggested by the great Polish poet.

"a word sets fire to a thought and I reach

for my pen—the dog rings his bell, but still

I attempt to write. He is unyielding….

I love him, and that moment when idea

would explode into poem has passed, but

I don't despair—more will burn again."

As a writer who also lives with a beloved dog, I can relate.

This book contains many more poems I would love to highlight and quote, but space is limited, so I'll close with a concise yet powerful poem about parachute jumping, "Dropped From the Clouds."

"to defy rationale

to willingly jump//

free-fall 8,000 feet

less than a minute//

mind must be tricked

a meditation of sorts//

before the second arrives

when the cord is pulled"

Besides the coiled tension-and-release depicted, the poem stands as a metaphor for the leaps of faith taken when one marries, raises a child, creates art, and tries to keep all these elements in balance.

It does not, however, take a great leap to acquire and read this fine collection and I recommend it highly.


Lisa was kind enough to answer a few questions about her life and work when I reached out to her.

Thank you for taking the time to talk about your work.

How did you get started writing poetry? Was there one defining moment or did it come gradually?

I fell in love with poetry in elementary school, reading Shel Silverstein. My mom still has some of the poetry I attempted back when I was 9 and 10. Although I kept dabbling in quiet attempts at poetry, I didn't get serious until my undergrad years of college. I took some creative writing courses and became the vice president of my college's poetry club. Being around other aspiring poets and reading more serious poetry was invigorating. I kept writing after college, but lost my writerly community and never submitted any of my poems to journals until I began my MFA about 9 years after I graduated with my undergrad. Then, I gained an extensive writing community that gave me the confidence to keep writing and to submit and share my poems.

What poets or other writers have influenced and/or sustained you in your writing?

My favorite poet is Ciaran Carson. He was a Belfast poet who studied under Seamus Heaney (another love of mine), wrote about conflict and was largely influenced by, and was influenced by history and culture. He passed away a few years ago, and so I'm saddened that I won't get to read anymore from him. I'm also influenced and inspired by Emily Dickinson, Fred Marchant, Wislawa Szymborska, along with many others currently writing and who came before me, and the many teachers and friends I've made in the poetry community.

There's a long tradition of war poetry, mostly by male poets, but not much about the life of the military spouse. I understand how that being your life would make it a natural subject, but was it a difficult decision to start writing about it? And do you know of other military-spouse poets that my readers and I should be reading?

Definitely, it was difficult to start writing about life as a military spouse. My experiences have not been rosy, and I feel that poetry should be about honest emotions. From the beginning, I was afraid of how I would be perceived in the military community. My 3rd-year MFA professor, Elizabeth Bradfield, encouraged me to write about my mil-spouse life. Once I got started, the poems came so easily because they are what I needed to write. I'd been holding onto so much hurt. One of the spouses died when our husbands were deployed, and no one reached out to us. For a long time, I had felt the lack of support and felt alone, but had thought it was just me not able to fit in, but no family readiness officer or counselor reaching out confirmed that I was living in a broken program. I write within the trauma, and everything else that had been painful and difficult in the past and in my current moment came out with it. Those poems became Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016), my first book. And yes, there are many military spouses people should be reading: Andria Williams, Siobhan Fallon, Abigail Calkin, Amelie Flynn, Kathleen M. Rodgers, Jehanne Dubrow, Abby E. Murray, Julia Gibbs, Mollie Gross, Terri Barnes, Tiffany Hawk, Allison Buckholtz, Angie Ricketts, Jodie Cain Smith…

The cover of Forces uses the image of a painting by Vermeer and your other two full-length collections use paintings by Mary Cassatt and Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier. Can you say something about the importance of visual art to your poetic practice?

To me, visual art and written art are in communication with each other. The elements and senses support each other to make a full experience for the viewer/reader. I shared the paintings for the first two covers and shared them with my publishers, and I'm happy they thought art complimented my collections as well. The Mary Cassatt painting of Permanent Change of Station looks as if my daughter and terrier sat for it because it even captures their personalities. For Forces, Middle West Press selected the Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier piece because the collection contains an ekphrastic poem inspired by the painting, and I thought it was a perfect choice because I feel Women Holding a Balance embodies the overarching theme of my collection.

I know many of the poems deal with this precise question, but how in fact are you able to find time to write amid the myriad tasks of motherhood, household maintenance, personal care, et al.?

Often, I write in the moment. I have paper and notepads in every room, so when I have a sentence or lines I want to write down, I can do so before it leaves my brain forever. For the actual writing out a full poem and revision, I like mornings and evenings. In the morning, my mind is clear to focus; in the evening, I'm influenced by all that happened and all that I read throughout that day.

Do you share or discuss your work or poetry in general with other military spouses? If so, what's that like?

Outside of military spouses who happen to be writers, no. My husband has given a couple of my books to some of his commanders who shared them with their wives, but I don't know their spouses. Several of my neighbors are military spouses; they know I write, but we're not friendly enough for them to ask to read my books or for me to feel comfortable enough to share my poetry with them.

Finally, regarding the poem, "Dropped From the Clouds," did you really parachute jump out of an airplane?

No, my husband has done different kinds of parachuting from different altitudes. That poem came from my daughter asking about parachuting and pretending to do so while my husband was gone at a jump school. He's the one jumping out of a plane in another state, while I'm at home talking to my daughter about jumping and attempting to explain my husband's experience, but not being fully able to without having experienced myself. I have absolutely no desire at all to ever jump out of a plane. I have such a fear of heights (and falling) that standing of a chair to reach something is difficult for me.

To learn more about Lisa Stice and to order her books, visit her website: https://lisastice.wordpress.com/


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Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA. More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives

©2022 Gregory Luce
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine





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