Thursday, November 24, 2005

Lisa Jarnot's BLACK DOG SONGS

I am a little behind on my reading. My theory about poetry books is to buy the ones that look interesting the moment I see them, regardless of what I have unread at home, since with limited print runs and the shortage of good poetry sections, I may never see the book again. And my job, unfortunately limits my reading time – I have to read for work, which is both a pleasure and a curse. So I have stacks of books that I haven’t read yet.

I bought Lisa Jarnot’s Black Dog Songs at Gotham Book Mart. I can’t remember if it was when I was still living in New York or on a visit after I moved. But I do remember being initially attracted to the book as an object – the smaller trim size, the striking cover image, the nice brown endpapers, the picture of a dock jutting into a frozen pond where the author photo should be, the clean, crisp font and typesetting. Then I read two or three of the poems and thought they seemed very interesting. I bought it and added it to my to-be-read pile.

Unfortunately, it’s taken me two years to actually read it – my loss, since Jarnot, who I hadn’t read before, is one of the most original poets of my generation. Reading this collection of hard, crystalline poems is like watching DNA split and recombine, like entering a strange world of fractured fairy tales and children’s rhymes.

Her poetry, like few others, really returns us to the oral/aural nature of poetry. It revels in the joys of sound. It demands to be read aloud, and doubles, no triples in power, yes this poetry has power, raw power, when read aload:

Tatters of love and lack of love they loved the love forgotten in the springtime in the street they loved the garbage and the peanuts and the smoke, of that they love the him they loved they loved him in the fountains and the park, they loved the tatters of the park

- from Tatters of Love, p. 29

Using repeating sounds she lifts “love,” arguably the most overused word in poetry, from it’s triteness, dusts it off, and restores it. Poem after poem is like this, words becoming sounds, sounds becoming song. Yet the words meanings, their cultural baggage, still haunt the reader creating a tension that adds a strange drama to these poems. I’m not sure how she does it.

But reading these poems I can’t help but think of traditional forms like villanelles, sestinas, and nursery rhymes – the repeating sounds and rhymes building layer upon layer, resonating, echoing. Jarnot is an avant-formalist reinventing rhyme, restoring the lyrical, creating fractured and necessary songs.

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