Just Poets at Before Your Quiet Eyes, 13 September 2017
If you know Jim Jordan (as I hope you do), you know him as a meditative, soft-spoken person. I made sure to sit up front to hear him. I need not have worried. Jordan’s voice was strong and sure, both in volume and message.
He led off with “Descending into Dharan,” a step-by-step guide on landing a plane in the dark, from moving through “the hiss of the slipstream” to “rushing toward the unseen disastrous ground”. Terrifying.
By contrast, in “Golden Apples” after a nighttime storm “a glimmering landscape” appears. From the golden sun to the very air and a yard “carpeted in gold”: all has been transformed. (Previously published in Le Mot Juste, this poem uses quotations from W.B. Yeats’ “The Song of Wandering Aengus.”)
In “Do You Remember Us?” a couple ride horseback on a beach where “hoofprints washed away behind.” And in another season, while cross-country skiing on a moonless night, it was “so dark we spoke/in whispers.” Oh, yes.
“That Time Again--The Shakespeare Festival” opens with an epigram from the Bard: “That time of year thou mayst in me behold ….” As friends discuss which plays to see, their conversation is liberally quoting from that poem as the “sweet birds of maturity … Thou mayst in me behold … the trends of aging gracefully.”
The oxymoronic theme in “Darkness Ascends,” describes how after a storm, “sky holds against the shadows but cannot stay,” a Zen concept of holding opposites, both yin and yang. Look for the “shattered shadows … scattered from green earth.” Audible gasps from the audience followed this intense image of the onset of night as the colors wash away into the last light of sky.
Bring on “Through the Trees,” where under “a clear sky of that muted yellow slate/of late winter afternoons in good weather,” anything might happen, or is happening, or has happened? The poem’s voice has taken us up a path through the woods and concludes: “That person will come down the sloping ground … down to us.” It is as if remembered walks are a thing of the past, and the old self is seen as an approaching figure.
More difficult was “Seeing is Believing.” While playing “The Tennessee Waltz,” a jazz band takes the music in 2/4 time, “Count Basie style,” rather than the traditional 3/4 waltz rhythm: “they punched it somehow, in two, in two.” Children are counting up until life itself is counting down: “Still counting, and straining, to see.” What we in the audience couldn’t see was the arrangement of stanza lengths, first sixes, then fours, then two. Let’s take a breath. There was so much more to follow.
“Elegy for the Old Kentucky Place” features Walter Kennedy’s hounds. Once loosed, “he would tell me their names/as each one spoke.” Having named each of his dogs just by its voice, Walter K. throws his jacket over a barbed wire fence, then calls in his dogs, and they line up one by one to safely leap over the jacket’s protection.
I could get exhausted putting so much fine poetry into prose here, but I think you are getting the drift of Jordan’s work. This is a poet in command of both his material and his craft, but we are not finished.
“The Secrets of Children” regrets his “still unpublished work,” his “Grandchildren Poems,” the kids’ “delight in dirt and dogs,” yet with a sense of something holy happening: “pouring down/their blessings, drenching me with/what passeth understanding.”
In “Bicycling Home from School,” riding down “a long corridor of suburban trees” and “astonishing in their sudden/lanky, jaunty eleven-ness,” the children are “yelling for the yell of it.” This poem concludes with a memory of kids “still with dimpled babies’ legs” on tricycles, kids and bikes growing taller, until caution is no longer part of their cycling days: “a shout runs ahead to me--/’I’m turning with no hands!’”
And what poet would be without at least one piece on unrequited love? Jordan’s is “Hugging the Moon,” in which she breaks the embrace, “her cheek, moon-cold,/freezing me with regret.”
“Prefer” asks wouldn’t it be better to kiss and make up in such a playful way, with internal rhymes and crooning alliteration that the answer must surely be yes: “the night delayed, old, the stars so sold/on themselves …”
The last two leading up to the boffo finale, include “Best-Laid Robin Plans,” Jordan’s submission printed in Foothills Publishing’s volume Birdsong (2017): “We will grieve …,” as the nest under the eaves is destroyed by a storm for the third year in a row. “And, She Knows Woodpeckers” is in fluttering tercets, first and third lines rhymed: “‘Ivory-billed … similar … affiliated …’/Then as she drives away/ I hear her shout, ‘Pileated!’”
And “A Defense of Poetry”? Who but a poet thinks of Prufrock while flossing? If you need further explanation, please ask Jim Jordan. His questions are always as interesting as his answers. Let’s hope he submits his manuscript to Foothills for publication this year so that soon we can all see what the shouting was about at Before Your Quiet Eyes at our last meeting. Thank you, Jim.
Review by Maril Nowak