Showing posts with label Edison Jennings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edison Jennings. Show all posts

Sunday, January 19, 2020


Did you notice, slipping through middle age and advancing , year by year, to the upper end of your sixth decade, that you linger more at the places where things you remember used to be? The house where you were born that is now a strip mall of mostly empty storefronts,save for the ubiquitous taco shop and nail gallery? The stump that used to be the large oak under whose canopy you first dared kiss your future wife and she didn't slap you and you knew things would be alright at least for a little while? Have you railed against the shape the traffic signs that no longer signal what they're about in a pattern you understood without having to look up? For me, it was aromas I missed, the furniture that remains in the corner of the room where someone sat for hours, months, years, writing papers, reading novels, talking on the phone, or it was the shape of the sheets sometimes when I am back from my assignments and the twists and and layered caverns of bed sheets , pillows plush blankets puts smack dab in the center of many an amorous wrestling match, me, pinned as usual, taking as well as I could give. 
It's an age where the universe we inhabit becomes one big scrap book, the long walk we take through memory as the years scurry past faster than they used to. Edison Jenning's short, casually addressed lyric "Bouquet", seems one of those journeys in the time machine --something so basic, even inconsequential as making yourself comfortable in a familiar  becomes, instead, the impetus for the poet to recollect even the smaller, seemingly duller things about a lover , her aromas, her scent, the way her body shapes the bed covers . I rather like this poem, admire it greatly, in fact, because of the simplicity and directness of Jenning's voice, a mid section of private message, love letter, or just talking to one, thinking half sentences of references that convey the yearnings of what words cannot adequately convey, the precise feeling one has when rapt with profound yearning to be with someone who is absent.  
We observe a man in simple ritual, sniffing about, unashamedly, seeking a reminder of the the unsaid issue here, that being alive is more than going through the paces. This is not an argument is making, of course, as he is only talking , briefly ruminating on a moment when he broke with the routine of merely gettng ready for the next task and sought something private and special for him. It is, though, a message that rests not far under the surface of the poet's wonderfully sketchy, chatty details: we are human and we have things on our mind that are not open for discussion, wonderful things that make being alive the best hand we've ever been dealt. 

When you’re away, I sleep on your side of the bedand smell the sheets where the weave is richest
with your scent—bath-damp hair, armpits, feet,
the alchemic reminders of your sex.
Call me, won’t you? Call me what you will:
pillow-sniffer, linen-lecher, truffle-nosing swine,
or better yet, a drowsy drunk who smells
the empty bottle’s cork to tease the tongue
and taste again the flower in the wine.
-                                         -Edison Jennings

Sunday, November 23, 2008

More Pith than Poetry

I do enjoy apples, savor them, dice and slice them, eat them enthusiastically and wallow a bit in the crisp and sweet delight that . "Apple Economics", though, is enough to kill my taste for the prized fruit. Edison Jenning's writing misses the the whole savor experience and produces instead a set of regimented lines that neither make sense nor appeal to the senses. It might be that Jennings wants to give the sense of a listener coming into the middle, or the last third of a conversation, with all the signifiers connected to an emotion that was initially expressed at the start of the monologue but which as abated with the on going details.

Though livid and salacious, supermarket Red Delicious
don't deserve the name. But after bagging two or three,
I think of old-stock Staymans that grew behind our house
in weather-beaten, bee-infested rows no one ever pruned,
and all we had to do was reach. I must have eaten bushels' worth while balanced in the highest limbs.

This makes me think of those nauseating camera sweeps you used to see in Sixties adventure series like The Man from UNCLE or I Spy where the lens spins around a crowded terrain in the wan hope of getting in all of the incidental exotica with the fewest shots and manhours with little sense of how coherent the sequence might be. Jenning's method jumps from one stance to another, from euphonious memories of supermarket shelves to backyard harvests, with the only determinant being that apples had to be mentioned in each of the long and otherwise segregated lines.Each sentence seems like the start of a new poem, and I wonder if Jennings has read the notorious Language Poets, in the guise of Ron Silliman particularly. Silliman, an envelope -pushing writer who's unmoored referents are written with a rigorous methodology and purpose , uses images and image-born phrases in long succession that are seemingly separate from the sentence before it and the sentence that follows.Silliman's new collection, Age of Huts, brings together several books he's published as a long standing project. It makes for alterntely exihilerating and exasperating reading. Each line can well be said to be the start of another poem, and although the approach , which foregrounds language as subject matter, and while the aesthetic effect of Silliman's poetry is culminative--there is a cubist perspective that arises when one gets a hint that each of the writer's pieces, nonsequitur that they may seem, have physical locations, sites, real people with whom he's had real conversations, and there is stammering and stuttering rhythm which is oddly musical as he works through his variations of chosen icons--tone appreciates the length to which Silliman has continued his course of examining the dictions and tropes that constitute the way we address our experience in the world.

Jenning's aims are more modest and less successful, chiefly because he seems to want to transgress that troublesome line that separates poetry from prose and so produce writing that has the effect of a collage. The ambition isn't political as is Silliman's, it is nostalgic and quaint. We are meant to take this in as a series of associations , personalized with first person pronouns, as an epiphany, a rush of sensation that is elusive, powerful, and which makes us weak in the knees in the fragmented recollection.

With one hand full of apples,
the other swatting bees, I watched swallows tip
and skim the tree-rimmed skies already hinting cold,
the windfall left ungathered, the fallow years that followed,
and now this bag of garish fruit my memory grafts to vintage
among the rows of grocery aisles that green to fields of praise.

There are not many instances when I would invoke the name of Billy Collins as an example any other poet should emulate, but in this case I think Collins' transparent "writerly" stanzas would have been a perfect match for the ambivalent nostalgia Jennings tried to get across. The failure is what I see as Jenning's willingness to flirt with nonsequiturs to get his feeling across; it reads as arch and stiff, and the worst offense, dull. Collins has the benefit of not trying to be bold or experimental in his verse celebrating the mundane . He might be a hack, but at least he succeeds in what he's trying to get across in a poem. But this is stiff as as a starched brassire, unnatural sounding for an impressionistic chain of autobiographical images; the associative leaps between the lines would be more vivid with a tongue speaking with fewer words one has copied from a thesaurus, to be used in a poem when the muse is ready to motivate an idea. It reads as if it has been worked over, concentrated upon, with new phrases added, deleted, reworked, over-thought. Edison Jenning's would- be tribute to apples sounds forced and unappetizing. Nothing convincing of either apples or his experience of them comes across here, and that's a shame.