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Lia Purpura’s daring new book of lyric essays, On Looking, is concerned with the aesthetics and ethics of seeing. In these elegantly wrought meditations, patterns and meanings emerge from confusion, the commonplace grows strange and complex, beauty reveals its flaws, and even the most repulsive object turns gorgeous. Purpura’s hand is clearly guided by poetry and behaves unpredictably, weaving together, in one lit instance, sugar eggs, binoculars, and Emerson’s words: “I like the silent church before the sermon begins.”
In “Autopsy Report,” Purpura takes an intimate look at the ruin of our bodies after death, examining the “dripping fruits” of organs and the spine in its “wet, red earth.” A similar reverence is held for the alien jellyfish in “On Form,” where she notes that “in order to see their particular beauty…we have to suspend our fear, we have to love contradiction.”…[more]