Apr/May 2018  •   Reviews & Interviews

Receptacle with Five Senses

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

The Dream of Reason.
Jenny George.
Copper Canyon Press. 2018. 80 pp.
ISBN 978-1-55659-5-196.

Jenny George is a poet with a two sentence publishing bio that has remained exactly the same in every electronic venue for a few years now and almost no web footprint. In her first book of poems, The Dream of Reason, she is similarly more distant than is common in the craft. Emotions are there. it is just that they are kept carefully on the far side of her poems.

Her images, like "Chime of spoon in sink," are precise in their materiality, unadorned. They are more immediate than a record. They unload themselves in carefully measured syllables.

The poem "Everything Is Restored," in which the chime is heard, is one of a number of poems remarkable in their strict emotional asceticism. A baby boy is being fed and put down for a nap.

...he is slipping
into the silvery minnows
of dreams...

To be told more is to know less.

Passing in and out of the state of dream is a recurring trope in these poems. Also birth and death while...

...a fly
does his tedious business.
The flank of an eating animal shudders.

In the second of the three sections of The Dreaming of Reason, calves have no more charm than the reader cannot help but supply, horses are beaten, impassive. The slaughter of pigs is a recurring theme. "A man in an orange hat" is seen, "standing in a new place," just before an abrupt, final "Darkness coming out of a hole in the floor."

The young girl "from out of town" who drowns in another poem, in the third section, surely saw much the same darkness coming toward her. When winter arrives, the local children skate over the ice that covers the scene, afterwards laying on their backs "acquiring a sense of the ordinary." The section is host also to the title poem. Itself sectioned, the fifth—"Talisman"—is particularly uncanny.

For all the asceticism, however, these poems have a surprising number of images, each patiently unfolded to reveal a fragile surprise. The world goes still, as...

The sun builds a slow house inside my house,
touching stilled curtains, the bottoms of cups
left out on the table.

The poet is fully there. To the point where she is almost not there at all. Her witness is a worship without the hint of a religion, poetry.

All of this is not to say that The Dream of Reason is without its flaws. "The Gesture of Turning a Mask Around" is normally contrived for a first book. The lions in "The Veld" do not justify their existence. The poem "Vaudeville" is an indulgence. The last line and a half of "Revelation" is overwriting for all it might seem necessary, maybe, or at least no big deal. Still, the flaws are few.

Were the poems of The Dream of Reason less emotionally ascetic many of them might be mistaken for poems by Lucia Perillo. But there is only the slightest hint of the ironies that so fascinate Perillo in the off-handedly violent world we all share. There is no ferocious bad girl humor. Not the slightest hint of a glint in the eye.

Nor is there the implication of courage except for the courage to simply be there, in the moment, receptacle with five senses.


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