Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Review of Janice Moore-Fuller's "Seance" (Wild Goose, Summer 2008)

Review of Séance by Janice Moore Fuller (Iris Press, 2007, www.irisbooks.com)
ISBN: 9780916078874

The speaker of Janice Moore Fuller’s poem “Angled. Mosaic. Companion.” from her collection Séance says,

Youth loves puzzles, séances with missing
voices. But you and I need the steady
fullness of a carpet rolled flat.

And that is what the poems in this collection do, rolling flat the fabric of memory and perception to help the reader see what we almost certainly would have missed otherwise, the secrets of love, mourning, forgiveness, things that live in the catacombs of the human heart, but through close contact take up residence in objects and places which become channels for communication between past and present, living and dead, here and elsewhere. In “Weeding Sylvia’s Grave, Heptonstall,” it is the headstone that contains Plath’s silent wish for room and time to write. Talking of both weeds and the flowers visitors have left, the speaker says

I’ve gathered them to fall
one by one into the rubbish bin
(as she must have done
dropping failed off-rhymes,
half-closed tulips,
thorny lines that wouldn’t sing)
even these roses that don’t bear
pressing--red, her favorite--
my gift snipped from Lumb Bank,
Ted’s temporary home.
The quotidian pulled away
from a clean new page.

Ironically, in other poems it is the quotidian which serves as repository and conveyance. In “Hydrangea,” for example, the speaker, while sitting in an old porch swing, comes to understand her grandmother’s acceptance of a limited experience of the world.

. . . she seesawed there
on the porch swing,
mesmerized by the hydrangeas
circumnavigating the yard--
hyacinth to fuchsia,
all the cosmos
she hoped for.

In poem after poem, the reader is transported to the time and place of the speaker’s experience and through the speaker to the time of the emotion, thought, spirit inscribed in material things. In “Midnight in the Convent, Spoleto,” for example, the speaker conveys the reader to a place of lonely, fearful visitation from the past:

I pretend I am one of them
waking to thin
light through the cell’s
lone slit . . .

. . . The stones
know I’m alone.
When the lights shut,
. . .

. . . The timer stutters,
“sorry,” under
its breath. My heart
thumps toward a dark

something big. It wants me to pause
before I press
the flashlight, wait
before I break

the terror with my tiny beam.

While these places are sometimes as exotic as the Galapagos or Lake Annaghmakerrig, they are just as often as common as parts of the body. Such is the case in perhaps the strongest, and certainly one of the tightest and most resonant, poems in the collection. In “The Grand Cartographer Recharts the Belly,” the speaker lays clear the impact of experience on the geography of one’s own body.

All those speed bumps, gutters, detours.
It was never flat terrain.
Chicken pox left pot holes, deeper
than gall bladder swerves the surgeon tore.
Twins left speed bumps, curves, and gutters. “Detour
here,” she tells new lovers, who restrain
but always speed. Bumps. Gutters. Detours.
It was never flat terrain.

The ultimate lesson in the poems of Séance seems to be to look deeper into the things of our lives, to recognize the value of things and to know that (in the book’s most memorable phrase) “nothing / gets killed for good” (No Pasarán). To not do so is to doom ourselves to live as the frigate birds in “Ornithology” who “clack/ against the life they’ll lead . . . / waddling toward the cliff’s runway . . . / wide-winged, / lonely . . . . “ To do so, helps us more readily “lurch forward / for a mother’s chant, a father’s words” (“Séance: On the Road from Stradone”). If restricted to a one line statement about this book it would be this: In memory resides revelation. In these poems too.

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