Sunday, February 17, 2019

Jessica Smith, How to Know the Flowers

Alabama-based poet and editor Jessica Smith’s third full-length collection is How to Know the Flowers (El Paso TX: Veliz Books, 2019), a book, as the author writes in her “FOREWORD,”

[…] about trauma, sexual harassment, female friendship, grief, place, and techniques of natural dyeing. Organized in three sections, it develops from a question of “what happened?” through memory, processing, and resolution.
Because the act of recollecting occurs in time, it moves linearly, successively, as it marks time (simultaneity). But our memories do not conform to linear narratives. When I recall a birthday party from my youth, I can recall fragmentary colors, patterns, and little snippets of linear moments (she brought out the cake, he paid for the ice cream), but to pull together a story from those elements distorts the reality of my memory. To narrate the memory is to fill in the gaps. In writing fragmented narratives that do not necessarily move linearly across and down the page, I hope to preserve some of the sense that memories are shimmery, unreliable, scattered things.

How to Know the Flowers is structured as a sequence of page-length individual poems that scatter and staccato across the page. With poems dated from “9 March 2017” to “8 July 2017,” How to Know the Flowers extends her ongoing project, The Daybooks; a project that so far includes numerous chapbooks as well as her two previous full-length poetry titles: Organic Furniture Cellar (Outside Voices, 2006) [see my review of such here] and Life-List (Chax Press, 2015) [see my review of such here]. “like a storm brewing,” she writes, to open “16 March 2017,” “but with no clouds gathering [.]”

Smith’s structures of erasure and excision explore and respond to violence as a way to cut away the dross and focus, properly, on her subject matter, writing the gaps through the gaps; writing the buried strains and threads, continuing those structures throughout the collection as a way to finally rebuild out of and beyond that violence into something constructive and positive. The poems pull apart as a way to articulate, comprehend and, finally, reset. “days of reckoning,” she writes, to open “3 July 2017,” “with acceptance                                       what has been lost / my grip loosens                                      what remains       what grew / the emotional memories                 become pure fact / lose their impact [.]”

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