Jena Schmitt. Catchment Area.
As Octavio Paz observes (in his essay "What Does Poetry Name?") "The meaning does not reside outside the poem but within it, not in what the words say, but in what they say to each other." Jena Schmitt's work is set on these sights. And although what is intended to be allusive in these poems can be tantalizingly elusive, meaning flickers, comes close to vanishing, then lights the sky with something deeply felt, which roots itself in the reader's sensibilities. In these gently didactic poems, Schmitt tells us again and again to imagine: "In a case like this, close your eyes. Imagine it" ("Time Reversals"). She bids us, "Look away, then / see what you might not otherwise" ("Sappho's Fortune"). She tells us, "Like the night sky you will have to retrace your steps eventually" ("Pinpoints"). And to "Pay attention to rainstorms, a lover's sigh, a train passing" ("Quiescence"). With attention to metaphor, simile and allusion, Jena Schmitt has assembled a collection full of observation and regret, and one in which she practices what she preaches--imagining. The sureness of tone, skewed to instruct, becomes arresting. In "The Restoration," following a line from an unpublished poem by Elizabeth Bishop ("Imagine restoring the night intact like that") the poet envisions night exchanging names with day, becoming "heavy as a limestone tomb" where dreams are "hidden in floorboards." "Imagine / night fell// but the fall was too//great. So often / the heart stops, the body//tries to escape." The vivid language of Schmitt's poems can stop readers in their tracks. Abstract nouns are dressed in images, where time "corners the present / in the past like an animal" ("After an Unfinished Poem by Anna Akhmatova"), and memory is "buried like a bulb in autumn" ("Point of Vanishing"). In the balance between celebration and lamentation, the poems more frequently treat loss and threat, such as in the elegiac warning, "We are in a state of falling / like sunlight / against the gold- / domed sky" ("The Golden Mosque"), and "Even the leaves//tremble at the thought of falling" ("Lament at the End of Summer"). In this debut collection, both lyrical and meditative, most poems are freely versed, but Schmitt does include a variation on the palindrome ("Winter Storm") as well as a number of prose poems, which are among the most successful in the book. A prose poem is difficult to do well-after all, what distinguishes it from plain prose and allows it to be called a poem? It's all in the language, its rhythm, its intonation, its sound. In the title poem ("Catchment Area") the notion of loss is central: with the naming of things (such as jade bracelets, figs) that "clutter a table," we see what gathers together, taking "the place where someone else might rest" and how they "show you what remains and what is missing." A delicate sketch, in only seven lines. In another poem, "Landscape with the Sound of Wind," a monarch is "close to lifeless" with the wind "giving her another life." It, too, is a lamentation, but one not devoid of hope, the funereal setting here being the field, "wide open and full of the wind's musicians, leaves / like rattles and tambourines to chide and accompany / what was left." Lifted by the wind, "a chance to live / again. Imagine: the monarch was dead, wings crushed, / neck broken, yet there she was, defiant ... So this was how it was supposed to end. / The crowded tamaracks looking down on us, shaking / their weary heads." Schmitt is comfortable with risk in her work, buoyed on the passion of language and an unwavering attention to what the words say to each other.
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|Publication:||ARC Poetry Magazine|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2012|
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