BROKEN/OPEN by JILL JONESEILEEN TABIOS Engages
Broken/Open by Jill Jones
(Salt Publishing, Camridge U.K., 2005)
A radiant lightness stubbornly permeates the poems in Jill Jones’ Broken/Open. For example:
Where Wind Falls
If you surrender details
they gather “a portion of the beauty”
in blue suburban clay.
In a clouded space
there’s room to step shadows
where wind falls under the sun.
Ways you still
hear the grass
strata, fine planes, slips of craft.
But light leans in from the left
expecting more than
What do you need to know, to walk
land along the lines of its wounds?
Nothing is beyond question.
Or, this poem written “after An Exotic Garden Viewed at Different Levels, a painted door by Donald Friend, and in response to a poem on the same subject by MTC Cronin”:
Pavilions of Longing
Past the carved notches of painterly thought
Embellishing glass that reflects the green way, the blue light
On the surface of everyday is a dream garden, made in an eye, of six panels
Out into song memory, floors offer their patterns to the lush, leaf shadow colouring
The gold dark bird sings—remember how light came this way through tropics of longing
Walls belly out from closures, into world rot and growth snaking the pavilions of air
The strength is not a trick to the eye but a fantasy of fruitfulness
Past the heavy entrances we need to take, a cycle of making
When I wrote this review’s first sentence, I checked myself to wonder why I noted “radiant lightness” rather than “radiant light.” And, over a glass of wine last night (), I thought that I might have used “lightness” because there is something to the “-ness” component—a materiality of language (and narrative references!) facilitated by specific images for which mere “light” would provide erroneously the sense of disembodiedness:
The Madison by morning
still taps beer and music.
At an outside table
he plays air drums. It’s a great roll
on the nine am wind—a gas gas gas
—chasing the ale
of some long gone youth.
Cymbals, that great crash.
If only I could stand up
with my air poetry
quieter except for my hands
and a little wiggle of torso—
it’s a gas gas gas.
Yes, these are quite “bodied” poems, which is to say, they are in the world rather than presenting a more distant observant voice. Witness the second stanza from “I Was Walking”:
It’s the white day
smoke in the mouth
turds on the path
walking stick at the gate
intonation of pain
the redemption blues
Within seven lines, the poem moves from an abstraction (“white day”) to a sense of the physical (“smoke in the mouth”), then to something indeed quite physical if not visceral (“turds”); then after a transition that deftly manifests a pause (“walking stick at the gate”), the poem moves towards significance, towards a psychological engagement, and then something (“the redemption blues”) that hearkens a conclusion even as it remains open to multiple interpretations by referring to something outside of the poem (What caused the blues? What is being redeemed?).
I mentioned at the start of this review the “stubborn”-ness of radiant light. I didn’t consider this light transcendent, you see—more of a reflection of an admirably dogged alchemization of the blues into something without regret:
Life in Autumn
Under the rain of grass, reaching for dirty life.
Reading skin, this old book of mine, this new.
When the prime minister’s teeth stare like a thousand grim moons.
An old Florentine bagpiper darts indoors, out again, into the midst of life.
Filmic days unravel my wound, like Montale’s arrows of love, the swimming.
Summer loses its sticky flavours, the last dribble on the chin.
A line has been drawn in the desert, and it blows us away.
The method is the question, so long as the notes with bluesy life.
For weeks all the poems were birds, now taking a dive.
Earthed in the morning, we try not to gush, but held. Particles.
Throw on a frock, sometimes the parade rhymes!
I have rubbed paint across my eyes and cry in messy colour.
After dark, I track my way home, this smell I recognize as life.
Words rain from my hair, flaky memory.
Further burnishing light into radiance are how some poems may approach the elegy but never lapse to it. This collection reveals a wise poet writing with much poise—a poet now making poems at the peak of her craft.
Eileen Tabios recently released THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES: OUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Marsh Hawk Press, 2007).