Tuesday, April 9, 2013
BPR LIT TRIP 9 with Lesley Jenike
The Steiny Road Poet in her 9th day of exploring the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40 offers thoughts on “I Am Love” by Lesley Jenike. The poem written in long-lined couplets seems like a logical follow-on to the discussion of Deborah Ager’s “A Treatise on Leaving” because Jenike's poem deals with love and loss.
Jenike’s poem involves a peripatetic musing through the seaside landscape of Maine as filtered by the first-person narrator’s mental inventory of painters that include Botticelli, Rothko, Bosch, and Klimt. The Steiny Poet finds the ekphrastic shading more fey than informative. The narrator presents herself in a theatrical, if not forced devout, way—“…as I walked/and made a list of props for my Madonna to pray to: eggs, chalk,//a bowl of pasta, kindness, a sad Rothko for the sky…” or “To reach epiphany/ a woman would climb any cliff over any ocean. She is a mystery//of both great height and depth.”
The I narrator reveals that she has come to Lighthouse Hill to get in touch with her emotional life—“I came to this island to stalk my heart’s//pheasant, to scale Lighthouse Hill, to circle the graveyard/ and trace its names with my finger.” What stops her is the 1858 grave of a sixteen-month-old child, “Clara Emma, only daughter of Henry and Marinda Studley.” Reflecting on this loss, she comments, “It’s hard enough to live, let alone wander for a vision of the living, isn’t it?” and then conjures “Clara Emma’s parents in black wool burying her.” Reaching into her artistic toolbox, she likens this vision of the grieving parents to “a vision/ more absolute than a ruby Klimt [known for his colorful paintings of a pregnant woman] or the scented heaven in The Garden of Earthly Delights [by Hieronymus Bosch].”
The poem is prefaced with an epigraph from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest—“Canst thou remember/ a time before we came unto this cell?” The quote is Prospero speaking to his daughter Miranda. He is asking her if she remembers her life before three years of age, that is, before their life on the island where they were shipwrecked. The word cell neatly reverberates with the title of Jenike’s poem. The Steiny Poet assumes that “I Am Love” refers to Clara Emma, as the product of her parent’s lovemaking, that cell that took life for sixteen short months. The last lines of the poem though addressing Clara Emma’s parents could easily be ascribed to Prospero and Miranda—“They stand stolid in their grief, the first Garden’s//epitome: monochromatic, shy, without ruse, together gazing/ at the Atlantic raging on an island where brutality rephrased them.”
Stylistically, Jenike uses a lot of exact repetition—“I walked the long way to town, wanting to be Botticelli as I walked…” or “What if I could cry over something like the sky//as well as over Bosch’s version of the sky?” Her repetition augments her rhymes, which appear in this poem without regularity as end rhyme and as internal rhyme. Given the compelling story around the dead baby, the Steiny Poet thinks this piece is better suited to flash fiction.