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The Philosopher's Daughter / Lori Desrosiers

The Philosopher's Daughter

By: Lori Desrosiers

Lori Desrosiers’ collection of poems, The Philosopher’s Daughter starts with a child watching her father “conducting Beethoven in thin air” while her mother shouts, “Len, please, keep your hands on the wheel,” and ends with a grown woman Night Writing with “breasts round as similes.” Her father, Leonard Charles Feldstein, a Professor of Philosophy and a Psychiatrist, died young (whe...
ISBN 978-1-907056-98-7
Pub Date Friday, February 15, 2013
Cover Image © Freesurf69 |
Page Count 80
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Lori Desrosiers’ collection of poems, The Philosopher’s Daughter starts with a child watching her father “conducting Beethoven in thin air” while her mother shouts, “Len, please, keep your hands on the wheel,” and ends with a grown woman Night Writing with “breasts round as similes.” Her father, Leonard Charles Feldstein, a Professor of Philosophy and a Psychiatrist, died young (when Lori was 28) of brain cancer. His life and death are the inspiration for these poems that read like skillfully drawn postcards.  The poet’s family and thoughts arrive, page by page, in intimate, clear-eyed meditations.  This volume invites the reader to witness the poet’s journey from girl to woman, from The Philosopher’s Daughter to Philosopher.
Sally Bellerose
author of The Girls Club (Bywater Books)

The Philosopher’s Daughter takes the reader on a ship tossed by the bittersweet memories of an American girl growing up in the 1950s to the continual self-discovery of a woman sculpted by passion and adversity.   This American girl, who sends her Barbie down a river tied to a bottle of Prell Shampoo, is a daughter caught between her strong mother and her father, a noted philosopher, who succumbs after divorce to astrocytoma, a brain cancer “with star-shaped cells.”   The calm surfaces of these poems that span Desrosier’s lifetime, belie her poignant imagery centered often in music and philosophy, imagery that makes leap and connections between mind and soul that surprise, wound and delight. 

Lord, Lord, can you believe it?
The way you water the ferns.
Minor chord on a piano, resolves to major C.
Where the icicles used to hang.
The coat hooks on the wall are not even…
The way you look at me sometimes.
Bridges crumble in your eyes…

Pamela Uschuk 
author of Wild In The Plaza of Memory and Crazy Love (2010 American Book Award)  

Lori Desrosiers

Lori Desrosiers’ other poetry books are The Philosopher’s Daughter, Salmon Poetry, 2013, and Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, Salmon Poetry, 2016. She has two chapbooks, Inner Sky (2015) and typing with e.e. cummings (2019), both from Glass Lyre Press. Her poems have appeared in New Millennium Review, Cutthroat, Peacock Journal, String Poet, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene's Fountain, New Verse News, Mom Egg Review, and many other journals and anthologies. She was a finalist for the Joy Harjo poetry contest and the New Millennium contest. Her poem “about the body” won the Liakoura poetry award from Glass Lyre Press. She holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She founded and edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry and, an online journal dedicated to social justice. She teaches Poetry in the Interdisciplinary Studies program for the Lesley University M.F.A. graduate program. Her website is

Les Cigales (The Cicadas)

“Les cigales, les cigalons, chantent mieux que les violons”.   
Les Cigales—Gerard, French Art song

After sixteen years underground the bugs
emerge, their butter brown wings sticky,
climb the nearest tree to dry and harden.
They lay their eggs in wet green oak leaves,
then sing for days and days until the singing
lifts them up to swarm and die, crashing
blindly into fences, trees and homes,
before their larvae creep down trunks of trees
to find a place below the ground,
and wait another sixteen years.

At sixteen a girl is emerging 
from years beneath her mother’s skirts.
Her butter brown eyes dewy, her gaze 
not yet hardened. She lies down 
beneath the oak, weeps and weeps until
the rain begins to fall, then runs inside
the house,  her room door crashing shut.
She crawls beneath the bed, a place
to wait until a first lost love disperses
among the evening song of the cicadas.

That Pomegranate Shine

Two brides arise from the river, shivering and shining 
like pomegranate seeds.
Words from an Armenian Song

I was the wrong kind of bride,
more sweat than glisten,
more peach than pomegranate.
At twenty-three, in love with marriage,
not the man,
I plunged into rough water,
bringing grandmother’s candlesticks, 
mother’s books and two silver trays.
Ten years later, I emerged shivering,
dragging my ragged volumes,
one candlestick and two babies.
On the bank, I shook off the water 
and breathed.
Standing with my children, 
looking out over the river,
the new brides asked me where
I got that pomegranate shine.
Review: The Philosopher’s Daughter reviewed by C.L. Bledsoe for Coal Hill Review (October 22, 2013)

Lori Desrosiers first came to my attention as the editor of the Naugatuck River Review: A Journal of Narrative Poetry, a journal, similar to Rattle or Flint Hills, and many of the better, though lesser-known journals, that carry the torch of well-crafted poetry publishers. Naugatuck stands out not only for its focus on narrative poetry but for Desrosiers’ fearlessness when it comes to publishing sometimes risqué, bawdy, gritty, but always powerful work. So I was quite excited to sit down with her debut full-length collection, especially considering that it was published by Salmon Poetry, one of the best small presses around.

The Philosopher’s Daughter is a portrait of Desrosiers’ family. She, herself, appears as an ancillary character, an observer; the true focus is on others. The first section, “Starting Places,” opens with “Conducting in Thin Air,” a poem ostensibly about the odd event of an airplane crash survivor (or fortunate dodger, since she missed the flight) who, a week later, died in a car accident. Desrosiers uses this springboard to examine larger issues of mortality and fate, setting up a major theme for later in the collection of the fragility of life. The final poem in the collection, “Night Writing,” bookends this nicely as a sensual exploration of the body, of feeling, so that we see that the answer to the curse of mortality is to fully inhabit the cage, so to speak.

Several of the poems in this section are simple-seeming scenic reminiscences. “Thinking Rock” describes a playing girl “safe/from pernicious imaginary monsters” as she climbs onto the thinking rock and “thinks until she is tired of thinking.” There is a marked lack of danger or stress. Back home, the girl watches her grandfather “smoke his cheroot,/have a whisky with her father./ Smoke rings rise like grey ropes.” There’s a hint of the future danger, here, with these ropes, but only a hint.

“Last Seat, Second Violin” is a humorous poem about the ability of children to overcome difficult or annoying situations in creative ways: “In 7th grade, Mr. Hayden would throw his baton/at anyone who played a wrong note,” she begins. The children are terrified, of course, and learn how to “fake bow” and not actually play any music, leaving it to the first chairs to actually play. A handful of the poems in this section deal with this theme of the attempted stealing of childhood. “Mile Swim” is about the Red Cross certification swimming requirement. The 12-year old swimmer stands “alongside fellow campers’ goose-bumped bodies/to start the swim across lake Coniston.” They “plunge into icy water, crawl away from the screaming/children on shore, relieved it is not their turn today.” Desrosiers’ language is vivid: “Our toes brush lake muck, seaweed, fishes,/shadowy spirits of unhappy campers forced to swim on rainy days.” But the 12-year old Desrosiers breaks free of the others:

To my surprise, I am alone.
Blue ripples, cloudless sky,
silence smells of dragonflies.
At the center of the emerald lake
all is green-gold and shimmery.
For a moment I am free—
free from swimming lessons,
the endless teasing,
the pain of my budding breasts,
my parents’ divorce.

It’s a moment of grace amidst the hardships of growing up.

“Paris 1950” captures a moment in Desrosiers’ parents’ lives in which “I am only a thought.” She begins:

Footsteps on cobblestone
Blanche eats crepes on Ile de la Cite
learns to sing Schubert.
Leonard studies philosophy
at the Sorbonne

The poem is spare and mysterious, mirroring Desrosiers’ knowledge of her parents’ lives at this time. Similarly, Desrosiers meditates upon reading her father’s philosophy books and connecting them to her memories of him (she’ll explore him more in-depth later).

The second section, “Mother’s Places,” focuses on Desrosiers’ mother, Blanche. “Last First Kiss” is a poem about love, specifically about a man who proposed to Blanche:

He was a violinist,
told her
he would pay
for voice lessons.
She described him as
older (27) and going bald.
She was seventeen

Unfortunately (for the violinist) Blanche declined. Desrosiers explains:

she had already been kissed
by my father,
who had no money,
but at eighteen
had long lashes,
blue eyes—
and silky blond hair.

“Daughter’s Places,” the third section, focuses on Desrosiers’ relationship with her daughter, and “Internal Spaces,” the final section, focuses more on Desrosiers’ herself as an artist. Throughout all of these sections, though, the mystery of Desrosiers’ father pervades, so that we see that she has become, in many ways, a philosopher herself by examining her life and the lives of those around her in order to find meaning.

What stands out when reading these poems is Desrosiers’ vivid, clear imagery, her attention to detail, and the emotional resonance she manages without tiptoeing into the realm of preciousness. Writing about ones parents, especially her father who died of cancer, would be a difficult task to accomplish without overt sentimentality, but Desrosiers manages to not only do this but to reveal her parents (and her children) as interesting characters.

Other Titles from Lori Desrosiers

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