Poetry reviews: 'Excavation,' by Janet Jerve; 'Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America,' by William D. Waltz, and 'Tin Flag,' by Louis Jenkins

  • Article by: ELIZABETH HOOVER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 16, 2013 - 2:00 PM

These poems get their punch from playing with structure and form, with a little MC Hammer thrown in.

“Excavation,” by Janet Jerve

“Excavation,” by Janet Jerve (North Star Press of St. Cloud, 73 pages, $12.95)

Janet Jerve’s debut volume opens with lyrics on familiar themes: aging parents and childhood scenes. It is the second section that reveals Jerve’s mettle as a poet: she is a master of structure.

In this section, she narrates the speaker’s mental breakdown and recovered memory of sexual abuse by her father. The form breaks: words scatter across the page and poems segment or compress into short lines.

The poems welcome new language. She wakes, “miserable, shucked”; and lives in a “quaking bog body.” In “Breaking Down,” she uses absurd MC Hammer lyrics to describes “the voices in your head … all playing chicken as they race / down Main.” MC Hammer morphs into the image of a hammer: “through the clutch / of his unwanted touch. / Father hammer.” Sound replicates the chaos of her father violating his parent role.

Jerve uses repeated phrases to send the reader back to first section. This structure functions as a metaphor for recovering memory; the reader revising their initial interpretation parallels the speaker’s realizations about her past.

The third section moves from personal to communal:

“I imagine the darkness that separates all women, / that connects them to absence, to stars / that have shifted over time with the speed of aggression / to the knowledge there is no beauty in dominance.”

Instead, the beauty comes in the speaking against and through dominance with poet’s tools: structure and form.

“Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America,” by William D. Waltz (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 80 pages, $15.95)

William D. Waltz’s second volume is saturated with abundance and urges readers to experience the strange beauty of the natural world.

In “The Four Leaf Blowers of the Apocalypse Came Calling,” the speaker holds an armful of leaves: “I gave each leaf a pet name / … and the smells of autumn attached / themselves to my personal DNA.” A wind that “needed nothing / and could not be made more perfect” blows them away.

Waltz describes the landscape around his home of St. Paul — the moonlight overflowing a bathtub, the “fleur-de-lis” of a tree’s shadow, crows in “silhouettes in prayer.”

Waltz’s language has the precision and wonder of nature programs he mentions in his poems. Readers will delight in the aptness of his description; a “hippo / who walks underwater / like some kind of feral / Jesus.” Not returning to the moon is “like giving up on peaches / or friendship.”

His poems are tightly crafted in short lines or prose blocks and move by a careful logic. For example, a brain resembling “Caribbean coral” eventually takes us to “Craters of the Moon National Park.” Sometimes the logic’s sound-based: “eagle and sparrow / and like pharaoh the radiant / vulture.” It’s a pleasure to follow the breadcrumbs of Waltz’s thinking.

  • related content

  • “Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America,” by William D. Waltz

  • “Tin Flag: New and Selected Prose Poems,” by Louis Jenkins

  • Michelle Kumata • McClatchy News Service

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