- Self-Portrait of the Poet
White Pine Press
136 Pages; Print, $16.00
Fashioning a self-portrait by proxy in her debut poetry collection, Jessica Jacobs uses research, abstraction, and memory to create a uniquely intimate biography of Georgia O’Keeffe in Pelvis with Distance. The title of the collection is taken from O’Keeffe’s use of bones in her artwork to show the combination of near and far, the pelvis in particular being used as a loop for looking through, as in Pelvis IV, where a giant foregrounded pelvis frames a distant moon.
O’Keeffe, a woman who lived many lives through her art, is revealed to the reader in moments near and far as poems render her interior life exterior. The legendary artist of the Southwest is humanized through poems that compress space and time, moving through artistic power to longing and loneliness, venturing beyond well-known facts and into the lesser known details of romantic encounters, personal trials, and artistic achievements of her infamous and celebrated life. Inspired by hybridity, this elegant collection of memory and images is richly layered, novelistic, poetic, intimately and intricately imagined. Researched and invented, these poems tell a story that skirts the boundaries of memoir and biography, as well as the boundary of historical fiction and creative nonfiction.
Perhaps taking a cue from creative criticism, Jacobs uses researched facts to leap into the personal, detailing moments of O’Keeffe’s romantic trials and creative life as well as her own artistic journey in recreating the legendary artist through language. Weaving the poet’s voice with the voice of O’Keeffe, Pelvis with Distance goes beyond the mythical surface. In searching so deeply for the legend and the woman, the poet biographer begins to see herself and all of humanity within O’Keeffe’s personal journey. Inspiring the reader to take part in the intimate examination of art, culture, and history, poetry invites the reader: “Look / closely & you will see / the self I want you to be.”
Finely detailed images of “years shared at a distance” come with exposure. The lonely artist connects with the viewer, the reader, the gallery visitor. In a sense, the collection becomes a gallery of artistic visual images translated into poetry of lived experience. The reader is invited to go into the gallery and then to go even deeper to catch a glimpse of the artist working behind the scenes and then to behold the poet biographer working behind the artist, attempting to bring the artist to life.
These poems ask questions of those who make art and those who love art—searching for connection among artists, curators, archivists, collectors and life lived in the pursuit of getting closer to the philosophical insight of art’s unconscious mind. In this way, the poems find meaning in rocks, water, sand, the abstraction of petals and even scattered bones.
Pelvis with Distance, a poetic biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, becomes a self-portrait of the poet, Jessica Jacobs. The poet biographer becomes one with her subject while delving into artistic and personal periods of O’Keeffe’s life, moving from paintings to photographs to correspondence. Jacobs’s poems often speak in a version of O’Keeffe’s voice, yet as a poetic biographer, Jacobs remains true to her subject by remaining true to herself by adding herself into the biography. Therefore, unlike many biographers, she refuses to give life to her subject by erasing herself entirely. Instead, she gives life to her subject by interacting with her subject through voice and multilayered perspectives. In this way, the collection complicates and examines the difficult terrain of distance and perspective while also daring to question the difference between the person and the persona in the public and private lives of artists.
Jacobs takes her research from archives and into immersion, living in isolation in a primitive desert cabin. In a series of poems entitled “In the Canyon,” Jacobs skirts the fine line between loneliness and freedom, finding that the roles of the hermit, the artist, the viewer and the lover often overlap in her life and in the...