What Shines: The idioms, rhythms, allusions Jernigan interweaves are not those of the clone poems MFA departments often spew out, but gleamings of long scholarship, quiet intellect and the pursuit of uncommon musics, many of them born too of meditations on the included woodcuts by her husband, artist John Haney. I was initially struck by the sonnet “Lullaby” with its lovely alliterative opening: “My little lack-of-light” that flows into “solstice fish” and “solstitial kingdom” and the closing pronouncement, “You shall make your consolation all your life.” The first half of the book is particularly lush with sources from Orpheus to Lear and Prospero to Yeats, the references never just sitting on the surface of the poems but organically emerging from them through aural echoes. I adored Reflection (“The swan slipped under the bridge – a palmed card…a surreptitious movement/but scandalously bright”), the sequence for St. John’s, NFLD called When the Weather Comes and especially i.Arrival (“We arrive abruptly. The highway coughs us up/in bog, among the flat black pools that brood in peat” – yes! what an ear!!!), Desire Lines or Poems for Terra Nova National Park, the exquisite end rhymes and sly humour of Routine (“On Friday nights you swept the shopfloor clean/Against the wrack of publishing, the sanity of routine”), Love Letter with its deep consciousness of craft, affection rendered more powerfully through attention to prosody (“you’ll notice how the daylight pools/in the formal hollows of those o’s”) and the anthologized extended sonnet Encounter with the reversal of mother and fetus, the former “adrift in space” like Leonov and the latter able to “pull” her in. Sonorous, moving, significant.
The further into the collection I read the slighter some of the pieces seemed such as Poem with the Gift of a Timepiece, Grandfather Clock, Nursery Rhyme and Rings. Mostly I think because they are occasional poems and somehow did not successfully translate their context. Another like Love Poem felt like a sketch towards a deeper entry and I wished it had not been content to reside in the sentimentality of “our son…reaching out for “Mum” and “Dad”. But there are so many gifts here, even the cover with its colourful slashes by Pierre Coupey, that I am not inclined to gouge too readily.
What it Echoes: “New Formalists” like Anita Lahey & Richard Greene, Ralph Gustafson, a Chateaux Margaux Bordeaux wine paired with an endive salad, a still of Martha Graham dancing, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).