Although there is word-play in the title of this book and throughout its alternating brief and densely fragmented poems, the play is dark. This is a book that communicates by impression, more than expression. The impression I get is that of a dance between love and grief. The partners are locked together, bound by a locked language, a shared contrast that cannot be refused. This personal dance is also set against our dark national dance of recent and older history. Yet it’s all happening at once in a timeless blur. And there’s a present audience, who is inclined to see this dance as bitter and beautiful and unavoidable in the same glimpse. This is real and immediate poetry, presented on the page in the moment of its passionate breath. That breath belongs to the world, but it is also starkly human. Though death is a central feature of this book, the poetry is about being alive.
‘At the midpoint of the night we were allotted/ I found myself/ in dark apart-ment…’ ‘Sleep rent open/and I poured out. ‘ Like only the finest poets, Jennifer Steinorth creates her own revelatory, slant language of the interior, one of disquieting, intimate estrangements, dailiness dispossessed of its easy familiarity, distant atrociities disconcertingly present. The action of her nuanced, unsettling, multivalent lines resembles the wisteria vine on the fixed frame: ‘the living thing/that will pull it down climbing/up…’
A WAKE with NINE SHADES composes scenes built from a life that moves between the dream world of a somnabulist and the mindful actions that get us through our daily lives, “but these dreams!” Whether arguing with Robert Frost or courting his better angels, Jennifer Sperry Steinorth reveals the neglected sublime that deserves a second look. Frost becomes a metaphor for the complexity of the world we’re trying to make sense of, but she invites us to use all of it—the “hard to predict weather,” discords “together, for pleasure,” and the “cheers…through hunger”—to dream more. Indeed, A WAKE with NINE SHADES is a billet-doux to the world we still fight for and to the better world of which we dream.
Among the many striking rewards of Jennifer Sperry Steinorth’s Forking the Swift is being led into the startling realization that everything is a wilderness. She leaves us alone and lost with no guide except the poem. When we stumble out from her work, we wonder how we survived and we learn that survival means changing into something new. Notice how she makes form evoke and embody what the language explores. This is artistry that matters and means. These poems put the lie to one ever again saying, “Seen that. Done that.” Steinorth brings us back to the enigmatic wonder of it ALL.
In a world where language may be as homogenized as milk or as pretentious as Jello colors, Jen Sperry Steinorth’s poems offer the essential-ness that a long look at a clear night sky will give you. She is as attentive to sound as a jazz trumpeter is, “Those Triassic Calamites out a coal mine in Tasmania...,” letting the mutes and sibilants move in and out of a poem like fireflies, but she’s also as grounded and authentic as a good drummer: climbing oil rigs, going for smokes, and yes, what about that black dress? Her poems range wide in refreshing content and format, strung with phone calls from the electrician and wrestling bears. They are permeated with quiet wit about human and wild nature—think of “Thirteen Ways to Kill Starlings.” Without sentiment or cliché, Jen brings us what we love in poetry, the song of shaped sounds rivering through shaped meaning—“suck the marrow/the morrow.” Michigan Writers is proud to introduce this dynamic work not just to lovers of poetry, but to all of us who long for a clear eye to show us the what shines in the dark.