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reading blameless mouth by jessica fox-wilson

February 19, 2011

I read Blameless Mouth on the plane to Portland (where I am on my final vacation, a last hurrah, before starting my first full-time office job since 1999). There are lots of books — many written by blogosphere friends and “colleagues” — that I want to tell you about, but I don’t think I want to do traditional reviews. I want to gush sometimes (like I did with Rough Honey), and I want to do something creative (like Dale has been doing). Sometimes I may even do formal reviews, but I most want to share with you impressions, however they manifest, of those things that stand out in what I am reading.

Since I am on vacation, this one is going to be pretty relaxed. Here are some non-cohesive (though I hope coherent) thoughts about Blameless Mouth:

How to order a poetry collection
I have realized that I often approach collections these days from a technical stand-point, and right away I admired how Jessica created movement poem to poem. Many poems echo a line or an image from the poem (or sometime poems) before it.

For example, the opening poem is set in the Garden of Eden, and the next poem, “Orange Trees,” begins, “In the perpetual summers of childhood … our backyard orange trees.” The lush scenes described are reminiscent of paradise (“I gathered the excess in my hand”), and the poem delivers the expulsion we anticipate: “I no longer live like this. I subsist/ on supermarket oranges.” The very next poem is called “Eviction,” and the narrator is packing. She says she “took necessities, at first,/ then grabbed the last few fruits, fearing the worst.”

In my own current manuscript, I have tried to accomplish something similar, and so it was intriguing to see it done so well here. Jessica’s connections between poems are strong, and it was delightful. My own transitions are more subtle (translation: I am worried that they are clear only to me!), and I plan to go back to it and see if the manuscript could benefit from stronger resonance between the poems.

Following the bread crumbs
I was going to talk next about following threads and storylines throughout Blameless Mouth, but I chose “bread crumbs” instead, in honor of Hansel and Gretel, who play recurring roles. Sometimes when I read a book of poems and fall in love with a character or set of images, I am disapponted when the glimpse at those beloved elements is too brief. But here, one of my favorite aspects of the collection is how it dives deeply and repeatedly into its overriding theme (which, for me, was “appetite”) and how it revisits a handful of storylines along the way.

Again, I am paying attention here as a fellow-assembler-of-poems-into-manuscripts. One of the questions we contend with is how to feature those themes on which we obsess — Yes, we obsess. We obsess. Don’t be ashamed! — without knocking our readers over their heads. We don’t want them to say, “Enough already!”

Jessica’s diverse, inter-laced storylines allow her poems to crawl all over the appetite theme without making readers weary. Instead, we become companions with them as they navigate their appetites. We accompany Adam and Eve, the child, the fox, Snow White, the model and the magazine, the mouth, the shipwreck and Hansel and Gretel.

Even the fruit and the hunger seem like characters we follow, awaiting their entrances scene after scene. In addition to drenching us so delightfully with appetite tales, the repeating appearances of these characters has the effect of creating familiarity — even intimacy. And I think establishing intimacy with appetite is one of the driving forces of the collection.

Great images for appetite
Even though appetite seems to be the pervasive theme, it is far from predictable. Via the poems in the collection, we experience it on many stages built for the characters I mention above. We also find it on the parent/child stage — what children require from their parents and what parents ask of their children — and we see appetite in the vivid stories of theft/robbery/stealing.

Among my favorite images of the collection is a Jack Sprat and his wife take-off. Though their names aren’t mentioned specifically, we are familiar enough with our Mother Goose that we recognize them right away in the poem “Betwixt.” The conceit of the poem is that the glutton and the one who starves both live within us.

In addition, I was delighted by the octopus in “Legacy on His Disappearance.” In this piece, the narrator of our shipwreck-storyline attempts to adapt to the new reality of so much water. She says, “One black octopus has planted her blooming body at the table’s end.” The creature is a guest, and the table connects us to the appetite theme.

And of course I was horrified by the image of the kittens — “How could I/ forget to feed them?” (my note: appetite) — in “Recurring Dream,” but I will leave that surprise up to you. Suffice to say it is memorable.

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This post is part of a blog tour for Blameless Mouth. Here are some of the stops:

Robert Frost’s Banjo
Stoney Moss
Coyote Mercury (upcoming)

NOTE: My apologies for not including a cover image with this post. I forgot to upload it to my iPad before the trip, but I will add it when I return!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad which I love even more than Ben & Jerry’s New York Superfudge Chunk ice cream (which is a lot!)

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5 Comments
  1. Christine permalink
    February 19, 2011 12:56 am

    A beautiful review. I have Blameless Mouth next to my bed.

    Love to you with your book. You’re a talented writer of poems and more.

  2. February 19, 2011 9:23 am

    Oy! More books for the list! But thank you. With so many out there and being a newcomer to the poetry scene, your reviews help. I have both Rough Honey and Blameless Mouth on my list now…
    margo

  3. February 19, 2011 10:11 am

    Wonderful approach to her book, it helps me see even more of it.

    xoxo

  4. February 19, 2011 8:28 pm

    Oooh—sounds fantastic. And what sensitive, intriguing ideas you have about it. I love thinking about the arrangement of poems, too–that is possibly the hardest thing for me. I overthink it and have trouble seeing alternatives…

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