Book Review: "Many-Storied House"

In Many-Storied House, George Ella Lyon recalls with great emotion yet simple words her formative and adult years through the lens of her homeplace in Harlan, Kentucky. The house was built by her grandfather and it was here that she packed up her memories after her mother's death.

We've all heard and probably used the phrase "if these walls could talk" before in terms of a property of either historic or personal significance.

Well, Lyon makes the walls of 108 First Street talk. Room by room (a floorplan for each of the two levels is provided), stories are told making the house into a home. In the end, we all feel "at home" in this place.

The collection of poetry begins with a locked front door and children squeezing through a bathroom window to help the rest of the family inside.

Lyon juxtaposes the local non-event of "August 4, 1944" with the seemingly non-event half a world away. But her brother's second birthday would not stand the test of time in the way that the Gestapo's non-discovery of Anne Frank's diary would. It was on "this day the bookcase is swung back, staircase revealed."

I read "August 4, 1944" twice, each with a long pause. Lyon's simple worlds evoke so much emotion and this could not have been truer than in this poem. But emotion ran throughout Many-Storied House.

While reading, I laughed and I cried. Rarely has a book so touched me the way that this anthology of George Ella Lyon's poetry did.

George Ella wrote of her mother's illness and demise. The rush of the final moments in the hospital could be felt in "On Her Side." My own memory of a similar incident at my grandfather's funeral - slipping a memento into the coffin - was recalled when, in "Final Play."
my son slipped
those Scrabble tiles
into the box. 

Simple moments captured in poem. And yet we are forced to decide what memories - mental or tangible - we must keep as the author decides what of her parent's possessions should or should not be kept in "Can't Believe." But, I couldn't help but remember the parallel from "Junk Drawer":
Junk is the Secret
Service protecting what is
precious. It slows down 
traffic between this world
and the next.

A life of memories are kept in a house and George Ella Lyon has shared her most personal memories (and the "junk") in this text. The collection is one of beauty and simplicity and comes highly recommended.

Disclaimer: The University Press of Kentucky provided the author with a courtesy review copy of the book here reviewed. The link to the reviewed book is part of an affiliate agreement between the author and