Today's book of poetry: Light Light. Julie Joosten. Book Thug. Toronto, Ontario. 2013
Julie Joosten's first book Light Light floats in your hands when you open it. These poems are meditations of the highest order. When reading this book quiet descends around you, calm reigns. This is a pretty good trick to pull off with poetry. Julie Joosten debuts with a quietly contemplative book of little weight but hits like a brick and reads like an instruction manual to reason.
The wind is a tongue to watch or touch.
In it, a post with a hole bored by a beetle and three holes fissured by
drying. A violet trumpet vine extends a tendril, gentles into a hole,
Were the vine an animal, its motion would be instinct, the tendril's
spire turning through ellipses of thought.
Proof anticipates direction. It is noon repeatedly, sky repeatedly. It is
wind repeatedly, the moon rising or setting in declensions of light.
To infer an existence.
Thinking, by analogy, of fossilized plants, of how little of life is alive
in the world.
How in a little hole a tendril may keep its point for twenty hours
perhaps, or thirty-six, then withdraw.
We extend to accompany the plant.
We sway in the hatchery, learn synchrony from the silkworm.
Tenses forget to pass or pass imperceptibly: silk moth above a
mulberry tree, caterpillar on a leaf, white pupa bending moonlight.
How fruit drops in a concordance.
A wasp crawls from a caterpillar cocoon.
Your eyes bend the light in your hands.
A surface to trace with the eye, to trace the eye with.
To grow by looking. Little peering efforts unexpectedly given.
Shadow of a hovering kestrel. Purple-starred hepatica. A rough sea.
I lick fog, taste evening. Invite forgetfulness as a way to perceive you,
to let hepatica become a sensation without thought: a purple sea
spreading in sunlight.
Here I feel myself there - the other side of the sea.
A kestrel's shadow hovers on the sea's surface.
Quanta of light move in waves over the sea, move the sea to the
Purple is a horizon extending the sky.
It seems not an earth-sky.
To think of attention as moving without trying to be moved to
shadow, hepatica, sea, to purple or sky.
Rain falls on the sea and forms a night field of circles glittering idly
in moonlight then dissolves into sea surface.
To give attention to what does not exist.
These poems read like very educated sermons from a service for a religion we have yet to discover. Joosten is all about enlightenment. These poems demand a certain pace from the reader, they slow you down until you become more patient, more considerate - but in an astonishingly clever move by Joosten, even as these poems require it of you they offer it to you, patience, consideration.
Wardian Case / Terrarium
As Thoreau was cataloguing flowers
a British ship came riding
from Shanghai, was a trough toward Calcutta (1851)
the ship's direction making crests from desire
carrying thousands of stolen seedlings.
An empire on the principle of the terrarium: in an enclosed
case, plants grow
fed only by light, watered only by
moisture condensed from the heat of the day and
returned to the soil at night
The tea seedlings were packed in sixteen Wardian cases,
boxes with glass sides and tops (later in the century
Darwin would write, "light [acts] on the tissue of plants almost
in the same manner as it does on the nervous system
of an animal").
It was an accident, Ward's discovery.
To watch the chrysalis of a sphinx moth metamorphose,
Ward covered it with a glass jar (the hills of Darjeeling
turned, too, turned green, then tended and pruned, turned empire)
and beneath the chrysalis, common grass and a rare fern sprouted.
Julie Joosten's long poem "If light stabilizing / if to receive a bee" concerns itself with Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717). Merian who had several plants, butterflies and beetles named after her, was a woman of considered thought. Joosten is clearly versed in biology, botany and all the other Bees but these poem has further reach and touches on sexism, ignorance, abortion, beauty, you get the idea. Joosten's poems do what the best poems do, they cast light or they cast questions. Joosten is not a boisterous voice, she is not screaming for attention but instead she is quietly and very articulately demanding it.
These subtle poems challenge the readers preconceptions again and again - consistently circumnavigating any bias the reader may bring to the work with arguments of reason, beauty and character. Joosten talks science with the big boys, Darwin is in here, Ward and his tea seedlings, but these are just details to a much wider focus - Joosten wants us to see the light, literally.
the light losing our words
Once in a field of abandoned hives.
Once with my eyes I, ghostly, felt a river dry to clay, lay quiet beneath
a blank sky.
Once there was a field, a river, there were mountains, I saw
reflections like phantoms, a surface of forgotten water, said take
the curve of a daffodil
bending toward snow, but leave the field.
They took nothing, left a memory of a river, wild raspberry, and honey.
To get to the heart of Light Light is to ask whether these poems work, do they entertain, do they excite, do they teach, do they illuminate? Yes, yes, yes and yes again. Julie Joosten's Light Light is heavy metal real, light light light as a thought.
Go to this link to see video of Julie Joosten reading her poetry: