To read the latest issue, click 'Issues by year' in the menu above

Jerome Betts: “Brightness Falls From The Air” I. M. Susan de Sola 1962-2021

Head and shoulders photograph of Susan de Sola

It was with great sadness that the on-line community of which this webzine is a part learned of the death of the poet Susan de Sola on the 28th October after a long battle with lymphoma.

With a PhD in English Literature from Johns Hopkins, Dr Susan de Sola Rodstein left New York to work at Amsterdam University and ended up with a husband and a family of five children in Holland. She was a teacher, expert on Joyce, editor, reviewer, essayist and translator, winning the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize in 2009 for her version of work by the major Dutch poet Herman Gorter. She was also a photographer, fourteen of her images accompanying verse by Clive Watkins from Yorkshire in the 2013 chapbook Little Blue Man.

Her poetry appeared in leading publications such as The Hudson Review, PN Review, The Dark Horse, The Hopkins Review, The Birmingham Poetry Review and others, and in 2018 she won the Frost Farm prize for Buddy, a long blank verse poem. In 2019 her first collection, Frozen Charlotte, with many moving, resonant and memorable poems was published by Able Muse Press to a wealth of good reviews.

But as well as the more serious side she had a great sense of fun. A contributor since Issue 23 in September 2013, a dozen or so of her witty pieces appeared here in Lighten Up Online. One of them, Closely Observed Postman, was included in Frozen Charlotte and another, Weekend, in the Sampson Low Potcake Poets series of mini anthologies. She also contributed to Snakeskin with such pieces as her crisply light Bunionectomy in No. 219 and Fading Paints, thoughts on a work by Van Gogh, in No 238. Two of her poems in Light also appeared in Frozen Charlotte.

Many people knew her through her attendance at the Westchester University and Poetry By The Sea conferences, and others, in the Covid years, through several Zoom appearances, the last on August 24th reading her powerful new poem The Hunger Winter. In my case I was fortunate enough to have had ten years of email correspondence with her about her work and interests, life in the Netherlands, the USA and England, her travels in Europe and beyond, the family dogs Rachel and Reuben (she was very fond of the small spaniel-like Dutch breed the Markiesje) birds and squirrels, the heathland of Het Gooi and a lot of jokes and squibs.

I remember the delight with which she greeted my casual reference to the fishing port of Lostwithiel in Cornwall as it provided a more or less plausible rhyme for Ithiel, the name of her maternal uncle, the social scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool, mentioned in Little Naomi, her poem about her mother, in Frozen Charlotte. We also managed a couple of meetings in London, which she knew well, having spent some time at London University.

She had other English connections in the shape of her English maternal grandfather in New York, and a cousin, the English academic Vivian de Sola Pinto, who wrote on Lord Rochester, and was second in command to the poet Siegfried Sassoon on the Western Front in 1918 (appearing as ‘Velmore’ in Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer.)

In her memory I have chosen two of her LUPO contributions to conclude this page, including the lightest of villanelles, though she sometimes claimed she couldn’t do them. After such a busy and brilliant decade in her writing life, no doubt with much more to come, the passing of such a warm, multi-faceted and vital person is a huge loss for poetry and her friends, but above all for her family, to whose members Frozen Charlotte is dedicated.


Susan de Sola: That Damned Elusive Villanelle

I’d like to write a sparkling villanelle
A New Year pick-me-up for humankind,
But still don't know what really rings my bell.

A tale of derring-do and deeds done well
Or soothing thoughts of a reflective mind?
I’d like to write a sparkling villanelle

So good a book of poetry might sell,
And feel it shouldn't be a fearful bind,
But still don’t know what really rings my bell.

The villanelle! It is a kind of hell!
This poem seems to be one big rewind.
I’d like to write a sparkling villanelle . . .

A few more rhymes? The stanzas will not jell?
I'm struggling now to make a lucky find,
But still don't know what really rings my bell.

Guevara? Einstein? Even William Tell?
Who'd read a piece with far less pith than rind?
I’d like to write a sparkling villanelle,
But still don’t know what really rings my bell.

(Lighten Up Online Issue 36 December 2016)

*      *      *      *      *      *  

Susan de Sola: Thoughts on Cheese

A standing block of cheese
Is milk not at its ease.
Seen through a microscope
It's writhing with false hope
and swarming with bacilli
that scurry willy-nilly.

It seems like this must be
the milk's finality
but is in fact a plea
for immortality.

(Lighten Up Online Issue 40 December 2017)