I have not been keeping this blog up to date! You may have noticed.
Anyway, here’s an annotation I wrote a little while ago about Lisa Jarnot’s book Ring of Fire. I liked this book enough that I’m planning to buy a copy when the opportunity arises. Right now I just have it from the school library.
(essay after the jump)
Annotation on Lisa Jarnot’s Ring of Fire
Maybe it’s silly, but I found myself getting really annoyed with one of the blurbs on the back of this book. I’m going to quote the whole thing, just to get it out in the open air of this white page. “The remarkable poems in Lisa Jarnot’s Ring of Fire seem to come to us out of some profound, yet distant, sadness. Rising on wave after wave of near endless iteration, like a linguistic Mandelbrot set, they arrive in the long moment after loss as the signature and enactment of an initiation-the primal collision and redemptive force of breathing between the tensile structure of the poem and the frangible space of living.” This lengthy sentence was written by someone named Patrick Pritchett, writing for Jacket Magazine. I had to look up what a Mandelbrot set was, and also the meaning of frangible. So I learned some new vocabulary. And there’s something nice about a lengthy sentence when its construction holds together. But there was just something in me that yearned for much simpler language. And this promotional blurb on the back of the book just cannot, could never, live up to the pleasure I received from the language within the book.
And it’s Lisa Jarnot, after all, that I’m supposed to be writing about, not jacket filler on the back of a volume of her poetry. So, let’s start with the opposite end of the book-the front cover, specifically the title. As someone who is currently working on putting together a collection of poems, I know it does me good to look at how other poets have accomplished this task successfully. Jarnot’s title is not only attractive, it is also a perfect introduction to her book. I don’t know whether the poems came first, or the title, but I do know that the image of fire occurs repeatedly throughout the book, from beginning to end. This repetition creates the “ring” of the book’s title. A ring is something that circles back to its beginning, something in which the beginning and end come together.
One of the fire poems that I especially liked was “What In Fire Did I, Firelover, Starter of Fires, Love?” To start with, the title of this poem is absolutely fun to read and to say. To read it out loud is to become the firelover, starter of fires. Behind me, two candles burn atop a table. The poem itself is a rich collection of fire images and stories of fires. It starts in the space of the speaker’s memory, telling of the many instances of fires, whether small or large, that happen throughout a person’s life. Fires are a universal human experience. We could all list specific bonfires from our childhood, specific stoves or candles, a box of matches, a cigarette, perhaps even larger fires (a house, a wildfire) that scarred us, haunt us. From the personal experience, the poem then moves outward, mentions Prometheus and other tales of fire in story and culture, general uses of fire. It ends with the image of glass: “the way it starts from broken glass/ reflections, the way it melts sand into useful glass,/ the way it can be used to shape things into glass-shaped/ swans and other birds.” The glass birds are a lovely way to end the poem. It is as if the fire is taking flight.
Another lovely ending is the final poem of the book. Its title, “The Specific Incendiaries of Spring,” brings the idea of fire in a new direction. It makes me picture plants bursting into flower in the same way that a flame bursts forth. Within the lines of the poem the image of kerosene is repeated, but so is the image of rain. I like this experience of a new perception as the last poem in the collection. Just like the glass birds in the previous poem I mentioned, it creates a sense of movement outward for the final idea, instead of a feeling of firm closure. It’s the end of the book, but the book is still moving. And this, again, supports the concept of the ring in the book’s title. A ring is something that keeps moving, circling and circling.
So, in moving away from this book, even though I might still be spinning around its ring, I am hoping to take with me a lot of inspiration on how to put together a cohesive and successful collection of poetry, one that feels as if it was meant to be a whole. I think I may have been fearing that too much repetition of an image or idea would become boring quickly. But from this book I can see that repetition can be embraced. I can trust my creativity and make it work for me to use repetition as a tool towards expansion of an idea and not just monotony.