a wall of trees
to protect us
from the desert—
protect the same
and again from leaving.
of the place-mind:
Girls cry publicly
creates an event:
Leaving is not the word.
We lost leaving last
winter. (Hid it.)
Here is without the desert-
stance: earth so
flat I’m a person.
Every so often a book strikes with a force that I have to catch my breath, a feeling I had when I first opened Jennifer Kronovet’s first poetry collection, Awayward (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2009). Admittedly, I might be a few years behind on this one (unrelatedly: this is the first poetry collection the baby has heard read aloud to her, during our weekdays at home), but there is something about the precision and cadence of her work that is reminiscent of the poetry of D.G. Jones, or even the precision and explorations of dark and light in Sarah Manguso’s poems. Produced as the winner of the 2008 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, as selected by Jean Valentine, Awayward includes a short “Foreword” by the judge that includes:
The poetry invites you in. When I came across Jennifer Kronovet’s manuscript, I thought of Rilke who says we do not want to live in an interpreted world. Her poetry does not interpret, but lightly touches the right brain, the part of us that can enjoy without necessarily understanding, without, as Keats says, “any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” The kind of poetry that you would not need to paraphrase or defend, but that will change you.
Another wonderful quality of Kronovet’s poetry is that it is interesting: without having plot, or even a fixed persona, it has suspense. And complexity, and humor.
While I’m pleased that Valentine chose this manuscript for the prize, her introduction doesn’t give Kronovet’s work nearly enough credit, almost as though she doesn’t entirely understand what it is that Kronovet’s is doing. Awayward is a book of densely-packed lyrics that bounce from point to point through inquiry over narrative, and reference travel, speak of ideas of being and identity, struggle with comprehension, and question even those things that make the most sense. This is a book of precision, wisdoms both deliberate and accidental, and deep clarity. While everything that Valentine writes about Kronovet’s Awayward might be true, the suggestion that her poems don’t need to be understood to be enjoyed is a bit confusing (and possibly, even, missing the point entirely). Kronovet’s directness makes the work entirely approachable, and “understanding” is as much a matter of approach and style as a red herring. How can one claim not to understand? I’m looking forward to what she publishes next. And, I hope: soon.
HERE, AT EIGHTEEN ONE MUST CHOOSE to have a bed for dreaming in or a bed for making love in. You think that this would be an easy choice. The sun has set but there is light that makes the country classically itself. If this were before, you would have longed for someone unknown to you. But this person is here, telling you about the first time he realized someone might not like him. She was a nun, and he was a child.
The first years without dreams, you don’t know if you’ve slept. And then you know you have. And then you know you haven’t.
One summer you purposefully stay awake together to imagine the forest inhabited by animals drawn by everyone in the country. You choose your words to make it more real, irritated by slips into the easily known. Be specific about how the deer run. How much of it is graceful and how much of it the violent jerk of fear, or of thoughtlessness.