Jane Joritz-Nakagawa reviews between wind and water by berni m janssen, Ada Unseen by Frances Presley and Fate News by Norma Cole

berni m. janssen, between wind and water (in a vulnerable place). Mission Beach, QLD: Spinifex Press, 2018. ISBN: 9781925581591

Frances Presley, Ada Unseen. Bristol, UK: Shearsman, 2019. ISBN: 9781848616639

Norma Cole, Fate News. Oakland, CA: Omnidawn, 2018. ISBN: 9781632430588

 

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa

 

between wind and water (in a vulnerable place) is approximately eighty pages of activism in poetic form. The emotional intensity is high throughout and its underpinnings fairly naked. After or while reading this book you can’t help wanting to march vigorously in a demonstration or organise a protest.  An afterword by Catherine Schieve summarises some of the dangers to humans of industrial windmills, pictured on the book’s cover, emanating from the sounds they emit. janssen weaves together gender and her love of life/the land as well as what threatens this and more, often engaging in wordplay and with intense focus on the sounds of language as well as the windmills and visual/spatial effects too: ‘more than hills mammary memories this love sung strong strung mama/mewling child the milk breast warm’ (4) or ‘exquisite intersection of sunlight soft as in autumn evenings/and blues skies blue as the calls of choughs like children lost a blue/to fall somersaulting as feathers light and quixotic we die in this peace’ (8) but also ‘the skin of farmers furrowed burnt their eyes ablaze/with hunger stuck the revolutionary spin/they are saved cash will flow if the creeks will not’ (13).  ‘Spin’ and ‘wind’ are recurring motifs.

In a poem titled ‘Dan’s notes: early spring’ we find among numerous verses all in tercets:

still night snaps cold clear

awake quick heart mind racing

turbines gearbox grinds

(21)

Later in ‘Dan’s notes: mid spring’:

becalmed, showers

another property bought

throbbing pulse skull chest

(24)

and another in this series ‘Dan’s notes: very late summer’ includes:

hot, rain later, plough

phoned in complaint

constant hum in ears

This book includes variety in form and tone and incorporates prose occasionally. It’s an interesting book with important messages.  I’d like to hear it read out loud by the poet.

Mathematics, gender and the environment sumptuously collide/intermingle in Frances Presley’s Ada Unseen; the title references mathematician Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. As in other of Presley’s books we find an astute listener/observer and masterpieces of visual/aural/tactile poetics. The book opens with:

treble     turret

in the tree tables

shut out the light

(13)

whereas a poem titled ‘elements of the design’ begins

a close walk

is kept close

 

ladies

are kept close

 

close by

and enclosed

(15)

‘picturesque’ opens with:

I want the birch                                     I want the fir

white bark                                              feathering

white lichen                                           melancholy yew

(18)

Presley’s interest in experimentation is everywhere to be found, such as in the poem ‘irregular hexagon’ (19) which includes the line ‘meet and divide a lost lifeline    three children marked in our skin’ or in ‘Typography of terra infirma’ which ends with the line ‘aprons of debris’ (25). ‘force field’ concludes:

you map invisibly              (x)                  on my vulva

(92)

 

Ada Unseen is a book I’d like to obsessively revisit for its insights and beauty. You don’t need to know much about Ada or math to enjoy it. As in other of her books, Presley’s keen, spiritual appreciation of the natural world (and its complex relation to modern human life) becomes infectious here.

Fate News by Norma Cole is a stunning collection including many elegies such as for poets Bill Berkson and Leslie Scalapino, David Bowie, American police shooting victim Jeffrey Clyde Wilkes and others. Mortality, impermanence, grace, and the natural world are recurring themes that Cole highlights in an innovative and meditative way, always with a delicate touch.

The heavens (and / including angels) are a frequent motif and open the book:

Jupiter high & bright in

 

Western night, signs &

Scars become shapes busy

Creating & destroying silent

Variables approaching the zero

Of dust and debris

(13)

‘Among Things’ contains both hope and fragility:

morning

ritual

motion

 

a feeling of expectation

‘connecting fetish and compulsivity’

sounds of sanding, making, working

 

framing a set-up, just some

angels revealing a crack

(14)

In ‘The Painter’s Measure’, hope, nature and the heavens are conflated:

Hope is encountered, variously

remembered, granted the patterns

of heaven–countless tiny

stars, oxalis hearts,

forget-me-nots, test sheets

 

Distant mountain ridgelines

flatten to paper in daylight

(18)

and in the final line of the poem, ‘A meteor shower—constellation/as memory of perfection’, nature and perfection are fused.

Cole’s elegy for poet Leslie Scalapino titled ‘When Push Comes to Shove’  begins:

Nevermore is just a word

The crease of life

Rain’s sweet scent or

The erasure of rain

emphasising the impermanence of human life, the perpetual change we find in the non-human world and interactions between both.

Her elegy for poet Bill Berkson, titled ‘Still Today’ which begins:

It’s still today

Be still

 

Is it far where you are?

Beyond the furthermores and the afterwards

(28)

depicts a childlike (or innocent/fresh) wonder (awe) about life and death with a bit of subtle irony.

In the middle of a poem titled ‘#3’, we find these lines:

a record of events

overhauling nostalgic to long ago

pushing a flood of tears in its

slightly elliptical orbit

evidently referring to what I must have

ceased to be in order to be who I am

and the iron moon of Jupiter

(43)

Cole’s light touch, inventiveness and facility with language and form throughout keep these poems from ever being stilted or sentimental. The recurring motifs seem to bind the collection of diverse poems into a whole very effectively.

A poem on page 49 has one of the best endings ever, delicate and sublime:

   [ . . . ] walking

the land, summer grass and spadesful

of earth, a rectangle, sun on it

just that

and the poem may serve as an example of Cole’s sometimes painterly approach to verse in this collection.

Towards the end of the book a poem titled ‘Contingent Tangent’ begins:

The table was glass like the sea, things

Floated, shocked, frozen, little

Warships and such

An hour later his heart gave way

(91)

Fate News may be an antidote to the ‘fake news’ that characterises modern life too often.  What a wonderful gift this book is!

 

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa’s most recent books of poetry are <<terrain grammar>> (theenk Books, 2018) and Poems: New and Selected (Isobar, 2018). Her collection Plan B Audio is forthcoming with Isobar in 2020. Born in the USA, she has spent the latter half of her life in Japan.  Email is welcome at janejoritznakagawa(at)gmail(dot)com.

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