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Reviews 177 “Sometimes in Other Autumns” to Part II, “. . .Fighting Back the Cold with Tongues,” a quote from Richard Hugo; then on to Part III, “Love, The Final Healer,” and finally to Part IV, “Music for Two Guitars,” where her poems coalesce in songs of celebration, courage and resolve. In these poems of relationships—earth and past, lovers and families—she would reject “the dishes growing in the sink,” instead going out to the land and the people, if only the people and the land were truly hers: “If only we could lull or change / . . . this midnight swollen four hundred years”; however, “Indians know how to wait,” as in the lines “until the heart reveals / at last the grace we lost.” She learns “lessons of endurance.” Some of these poems ask much of the reader. Corners are turned sharply; long leaps, attempted. Connections emerge for those who take the time. And I took it, gratefully. NANCY McCLEERY Anchorage, Alaska Wild Onions. By Robert L. Jones. (Port Townsend: Graywolf Press, 1984. 54 pages, $8.00 paper.) Idaho Aerogram. By Linda McAndrew. (Boise, Idaho: cold-drill books, 1985. Unpaginated, $3.00 paper.) Robert Jones’s Wild Onions was one of five winners of the 1984 National Poetry Award Competition. In selecting the book, judge Carolyn Forche says she “read through several hundred manuscripts and found the voice in Robert Jones’s poetry to be distinct.... mature, compelling.” Well, maybe. Certainly most of us forgive things in a first book we seldom overlook in a veteran’s collection. Jones comes close to earning my respect in poems like “Water,” “Depression,” “The Stone House,” and “Jenny at Eight,” but the self Jones sings seems to me the separate self rather than the universal self the best con­ temporary poets—even young ones—understand as their inheritance. What I miss in Jones’s collection is precisely what Forche claims to have found: distinction and maturity, any sign of movement away from contemporary norms, especially guilt, isolation, suffering, and the kind of exclusive contem­ plation of the poet’s sensibility that have resulted in what Wendell Berry calls “The Specialization of Poetry.” Jones seems caught up in literary fashions. The only way I know to deal with fragmentation, disease, or loss is to make something better from them. In other words, what ought to distinguish a poet, say, from a brick-layer, is nothing so obvious as language. Certainly language is a poet’sgift and love to which he may bring uncommon powers, but without the commonness of lan­ guage we could neither recognize nor value the poet’s distinction. Like Berry, I question whether the writer’sgift makes him a person of a radically different kind than the brick-layer. If it does, then it also radically reduces the relation­ ships possible between writer and reader. What really distinguishes a writer 178 Western American Literature from another human being comes closer to a matter of knowledge, vision (even inspiration), character, and wakefulness to experience; not language. Like any two mortals, poet and brick-layer will also be distinguished by the stories they have to tell. Consider, for example, Jones’spoem “Your Voice” reprinted below: We were sitting on the shore of a party, watching the dancers’bodies move in and out of their shadows. The dawn arrived, exhausted and bitten to blood by small mouths, and with it your voice, the voice of your girlhood wrapped in smoke. You placed it in the pit of my stomach, your goodbye like a boiled stone. You are a welt in me, a stone the river of blood flows over, cools and polishes, turns to a gem, edgeless and empty. What, if anything, has Jones to say here? That the party was a bore? That he lingered at the party until dawn, until a nameless female (girl or woman) said goodbye? (Judging by the title, the subject of the poem is the “voice,” not the girl.) Is the language here memorable? Are these the best words in the best order? What do we feel reading the poem? Sympathy? Pity? Does this poem, in Whitman’sphrase, draw blood? Or in Dickinson’s, take the tops of our heads off...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 177-180
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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