Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Surviving the Virtual Path of Perils in the poems of Jennifer Jean article by Michael Todd Steffen
article by Michael Todd Steffen
Poetry, this seemingly sedentary trade, bespeaks what might be called a strenuous act of psychological survival. Whether it’s the sonneteer trying to resolve the paradox of his beloved’s beauty and cruelty in a contrapuntal structure of 14 lines, or the epic poet’s thousands of lines recounting a hero’s battles and voyages, nearly every poem that elicits our sympathy and concern does so by evoking challenges, problems, conflicts or dilemmas which it is the poet’s task to overcome.
Jennifer Jean maintains this strain of poetic tradition in her fourth book, The Fool, a title which, as Fred Marchant has wisely observed, “comes from an archetypal figure in the Tarot cards, one typically imagined as a wanderer, someone open to life, needing freedom but perhaps buffeted by it too, a figure not beyond fear, but not afraid of the dark either.” Like the titular subject Jean has here re-invented, her method is to venture into perilous psychological areas, those of love, as daughter, bride and mother, confronting the awkward conflicts, confrontations, the risks of difference, aberrance and of loss.
Jean’s manner and language are abrupt—no punches pulled, no beating around the bush, no suspension of syntax—and often the poems open swiftly with drama:
Every fool knows death is change. So,
after the quake struck I dreamt “the Tower” card—
man and woman leaping off
Los Angeles skyscrapers… (The Fool, p. 11)
Remember yesterday, when an 8.8 hit Chile
and the earth’s axis tilted?
800 died and
the days became shorter… (Getting to Know You, p. 12)
We didn’t go too far
back into the tenement. We knew a curious woman
had been shot by stray bullets… (Garden Apartments in Canoga Park, Ca, p. 32)
Oh, Fool. You’ve got the “Death”
card. You’ve got travel plans,
oh chopper pilot. To crash
and make death mean
change, you need to lose
your back rotor, swivel and nod
so the blades face a mountain of pines… (Five Card Tarot Spread, p. 53)
The violence of the imagery and its scarcely prepared presentation is indicative of what any of us who find ourselves in front of screens, television, cinema or computer, are prone to witness over and over every day. The volume of human wreckage and its relentless display and repetition in the news, primetime dramas and movies have a callousing, desensitizing effect, which the poetry of Jean conveys.
As daughter missing a father in a foreign war, as child in general lacking, painfully so, trustworthy guidance, as bride in a world of convenience and short tempers getting glimpses at the life-long commitment of espousal and parenting, Jean again and again is challenged to breaking points, to “deaths” on obscure barriers of metaphor and reality—in our collective induction to virtual spaces—and has gained the vinegar of character and blizzard-bound shortsightedness to take it on and handle it. If she is dire, impatient, at moments dismissive or sardonic, we are left to consider the world she is dealing with, perhaps not unlike the cliff’s-edge landscape designed to make the wanderer depicted on the Tarot card The Fool.
The Fool, poems by Jennifer Jean
is published by Big Table Publishing Company Boston, Massachusetts