Review of Lisa Collyer’s How to Order Eggs Sunny Side Up

How to Order Eggs Sunny Side Up is Lisa Collyer’s first poetry collection. Collyer writes from an autobiographical perspective that is anchored in body and place. A major theme of Collyer’s work is the female body. Her collection includes wry poems about female physical beauty that come from a posture of acknowledged complicity with social expectations:

I tame
fur lined lips tied to Mediterranean

I betray
flesh razed in wax strips
fleecing skin & hard-won purse

(“The Beauty Police”)

There is anger in poem after poem about sexual assault, domestic violence, and double standards:

Before a nymph learns to gag
I sieve the letters you explete
bilious                 S           L

(“Maiden Shame”)

Some of her finest poems handle infertility, termination, and childlessness with a delicate yet savage acuity, including the brilliantly allusive “Ghosting”:

A nasal RAT is a pregnancy text that insists, I’m still cursed. Hello Kitty waves from counter tops while fertility is a full purse reimbursed. Well-endowed steamed dumplings—swollen Demi Moore’s. Look at me, I’m cat-less—in an empty house being pinned to the bed, a cat on my heart.

Collyer’s best poems are like this: allusive and clever. They take Emily Dickinson’s poetic dictum to ‘tell it slant’ to heart. Collyer takes us wonderfully slant-wise into experience and emotion in poems like “Plastic Sleeve”, “Bed Bugs Can Kill a Hotel’s Reputation”, and “Outer Suburban Fog”. The title poem is a tour de force in extended metaphor (how many things can a poet do with eggs?):

At thirty-four, I try to conceive but each month an egg cooks defective. I wish I had Alice while touring Malaysia to help me order eggs sunny side up. The first question I’m asked is whether I have children.

(“How to Order Eggs Sunny Side Up”)

Some of the poems struggle, though, from being a little too oblique. The balance between allusiveness and elusiveness can be hard to strike. The poems that come out of Collyer’s residency at a West Australian National Trust location, for example, would benefit from a few contextual notes, especially for readers who may have little knowledge of this historic venue.

One of the joys of this collection, for West Australian readers, is the joy of recognising familiar things and places. There were little jolts of pleasure for this reader as she spotted native flora and fauna, the Bibbulman Track, and the Cape-to-Cape track. There was rueful recognition of minesites, roadkill, and plastic use in our school systems (in spite of the lipservice paid to sustainability). Suburban lifestyle gets a witty send-up-cum-celebration in “Outer Suburban Fog”.

This is a fine first collection by an active and much-loved member of the Perth poetry community. It should appeal to both local readers and to readers who resonate with its feminist concerns.


Miriam Wei Wei Lo

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