Monday, February 12, 2024

The NIght Before The Day On Which, by Jean Day


This is the first book of hers in which Jean Day’s work finally “kicked in” for me at a higher level of connection and understanding. Her poems have always been evocative, disruptive, oddly bent, never going where I imagine them going, Ashbery-like in their elusiveness. But somehow The Night Before The Day On Which is the one in which I could feel all the writing in the book gathering together into something that felt cohesive, a vast yet tight pattern, however much any given line turned away from a previous line.

A twisting and twisted Americana.

There’s something about the accumulation of one detail after another, of metaphors that jump away from each other, that add up to a world view that I can feel as connected, a strange mesh of identifiable context. It’s a context that reaches far into the past, that branches out into speculation and query, and and yet still always has a firm, even harsh, critique of the limits that people and their values impose on each other, now, here, and in other times and places: Inside the kernel’s a tiny game.

You can hear a Timex pound fifty feet away

It’s not music

not even microscopic

but plain speeches of the fish and branches

of LaCrosse, Wisconsin

midway across the Miss.

from a circus of fleas

to flat-out wilderness

Our foes

don’t want us in their schools “No worries.”

God has decided to withdraw his tiny hands (p. 54) There’s a incisive take on politics and culture throughout the book, especially if you can imagine what it might feel like to be a nested doll stuck inside another nested doll, layer after layer, none of us ever getting free, each one of us brilliantly done up for a festival of the freedom of lights that is often promised but never arrives. In the poems, I feel myself present in many contexts of struggling to understand, of not always knowing what I don’t know or what I might know, of not becoming what I might. In a way, these are tragic poems, but not of the obvious kind, sort of like a tragedy you didn’t know was a tragedy until long after it happened. There’s a lot of space out there in the world, both inside and outside the human, but the openness that one might imagine from it feels, in this powerful book, almost endlessly deferred.