Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ways We Hold By Jennifer Arin

Ways We Hold

By Jennifer Arin

Dos Madres Press

ISBN: 978-1-933675-71-8

59 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Memento mori! Yes, but remembering death as an intellectual construct brings with it unrelenting despair and crushing anxiety. Our metaphysically canny species needs to reach out and hold something or someone when facing the abyss. The acceptance of reality needs a counterbalance. Here, on cue, enters the magician, who passes the wand over the stove-pipe hat and pulls the inevitable rabbit out by his long ears. Behold art. Behold poetry. Behold Jennifer Arin’s poetry.

In the poem Reason for Being an Emperor on Horseback the poet flashes us a snapshot of her internal spirit crashing through the dense forests of ignorance, defeating the old ghosts and demons plaguing our world. The story line charges in, unabashedly romantic, and the tone feels self-assured, stark, and stubborn. It’s a short poem and here is a good part of it,

…I navigate;

to clear a path through the expanse,

to chase away ghosts and demons

from the heavy, hanging branches;

ride swift

from where I am to where

I wish: take in

the shaded world ahead.

The poet’s persona, in a piece entitled Love Poem for a Larger Scheme of Things, uses the most common chores of human connections, laundry and food shopping, to cope with death while, at the same time, facing the unpleasant details of its occurrence. She says,

…We fold

each other’s sheets, match corners,

and turning edges

of a page in the journal for Chris

I have the same sense of something

missing needlessly…

She then describes Chris’ death under an 18-wheel truck. There’s no flinching here. An altar in the cereal aisle concludes this unusual but effective matching of images,

At the neighborhood store

where he worked, friends place

a book of thoughts like these,

though more heaven bent, near

an altar on the cereal shelf, stacked

boxes of Life beside it…

Perhaps the most provocative poem in Arin’s marvelous book, Forces of Nature, rubbed me the wrong way the first time I read it. I mistakenly thought it overly sentimental, self-absorbed, and ultimately cruel.  Wrong on all counts!  This formal poem of seven stanzas is beautifully lyrical with an aabb ccdd rhyme scheme. The poetic structure ups the tempo and carries the story line to its frantic and seemingly feel good conclusion. The poet finds an injured sandpiper struggling in the surf, obvious prey for predatory birds or the incoming tide itself. As if that isn’t enough a pit bull makes a bid to dispatch the bird. But our poet will have none of it. She next delivers the creature into the hands of a veterinarian who, reasonably enough, offers to put the bird to sleep. Note the phraseology. The poet revolts and the poem ends this way:

Mad as the new rain, I try a desperate last plan;

the aviary, refuge from all predators, can—

and will—care for this fragile life.

Witness: it survived nature’s ready knife.

A new reality has been set up by this writer—an aviary of art. Her struggle against nature and fate comes close to madness. But it’s not. Here she seems intent on sculpturing the curves and angles of a new kind of being, who continues to battle, knowing the war is lost but choosing to ignore that fact.

In Giving Up the Ghost {Writing} Arin’s persona swears off euphemisms for death’s finality. She says,

…whether passed or defunct,

gone, expired, retired—should be debunked;

they offer no more comfort than the other side,

rest, departure, quietus, or Great Divide.

Such evasions should be our permanent loss,

should bite the dust, buy the farm …

So far— humorous and clever— but no more. Then Arin hits you with this last couplet,

Each term, despite itself, is a memento mori—

Just as no verse can reverse what isn’t transitory.

Pretty neat!

The poet also makes use of time to hold on.  In the poem Keeping Time, measuring time and the awareness of its divisions gives humans a sense of control. Maybe there is an eternity between two points. Starting with a 37,000-year-old calendar bone found in Africa, Arin gives her own little history of man’s attempt to control the march of time and thereby postpone death. She concludes it this way,

..If I only had one

more day, a friend says will be his

epitaph. All of ours if we can’t better

measure our presence in this world,

the timeless part of us hungry

to count itself: I’m here, I’m here!

Time’s an escape artist anyway.

Arin broadens this theme in the poem Unified Theory. She insists that understanding our universe and its continued expansion gives us a better foothold on it. It matters how things fit together. She puts things in perspective,

In ancient Greece, they understood

multiplicity, mere appearances

of a single truth.

It is our place

to remember that the many

stem from one.

There is no place

not ours.

Within Jennifer Arin’s poetry her well-wrought measures span out, seem to bridge the shaded abyss to the forested chaos beyond.  I hope they do. That’s all any poet can hope for.

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