Book Review: women: poetry: migration (Jane Joritz-Nakagawa)

Reviewed by Therése Halsheid

women: poetry: migration — an anthology edited by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa — comprises poetry by women living outside their homeland. Throughout this collection the prefix "trans" goes far. Transportation, transmigration, transcendence, translation and, of course, transformation are key for these poetic travelers who are experiencing what it is like to live and think in a country other than one's birthplace. They have crossed not only physical boundaries, but that of voice. I was drawn to the unique ways in which poems mentioned language — thereby giving us two experiences in one. We are engaged in the meaning of each written piece while also being made aware of the complexities of language-making.

As a reader, I found myself intrigued by a keen attention to words, their aural qualities. This is second nature for those speaking/writing in their native tongue. These are matters we rarely think of in daily conversation. When entering a foreign place though, one becomes conscious of how sounds form words as well as syntax, the sequencing of words to form a poem.

As Philippine-born poet Amanda Ngoho Reavey writes: "I spent eight years in speech therapy learning how English letters and words should be formed in my mouth. Hollow. The tip of the tongue placed behind the back of the top teeth. Bared. Legs — I mean, lips — spread" (9). In the same poem she shares: "They say that by the time a child is one year old her brain has been wired to know and understand only the phonemes of the language that surrounds her" (9).

There are poignant lines in Angela Carr's poem "Other Signs" that share Reavey's understanding of how sounds comprise meaning. Carr focuses on birth names. She claims: "A lack of name would mean to have no place" (19). It is true. A name is the chime of who we are. It becomes us. It identifies and connects us with our roots.

Among the poetry and poetic prose that comprises this anthology are short essays; many un-titled. These smaller works appear at the end of each poet's group of poems. They probe the writing process, the psyche and/or alternative ways of being — ways outside common thought. For example, Angela Carr's essay explores location through the lens of quantum physics, the phenomenon of simultaneous time. The writer describes bilocation as "… the possibility to be both here and there, simultaneously, or to be here in there and away from there at once"(24). It can occur in dreams she says, as well as an experience she had of sensing herself as being in Montreal and New York, in the same moment. She then touches upon this same feeling when converging different languages.

In Anne Tardos' essay titled "On My Multi-, Pluri-, Poly- Or Neolingual Writing" we come to know more deeply, how various languages intersect and how the writer will "continue to operate between languages, and observe their effect on thought and imagina-tion" (33). It was interesting to sense how the writer weaved in and out of the four different languages she knew and "became aware of the relation between language and thought, and between language and non-linguistic behaviour" (33). She shares with us that gesture, pitch, and even opinions shift according to the language she is "thinking" in.

While some poems look traditional on the page — flush left at the margin, line breaks that use end-stopped or enjambment — there are many where topography is experimental. These pieces are reminiscent of e.e. cummings and others whose lack of punctuation, capitalization and jarring line breaks could alter the way a poem is read. This is purposeful. Placement shifts meanings.

Other poems indent lines to create a stairs effect. Some indentations are irregular to create a longer pause, or to halt rhythms. Choreographed poems frequent this anthology, as in this excerpt from "Conservation" by Carrie Etter:

along the Mackinaw
              plant trees and more trees
        to shade, to cool
                        smallmouth bass

                            southern red belly, blackness dace (47)

Barbara Beck's essay makes clear that "Writing poetry is a way of exploring the world and ourselves in it" (37). I like the way she senses words as a connective device. It appears that once she "taps" into language, "whole networks of elusive connections open up, sometimes expanding slowly, sometimes preceding by leaps and bounds" (37). As I read on, I am fortunate to experience other ways in which words work on the page, as so often we take the important job they do for granted. For this poet, even an expletive "catches both eye and ear, for short units such as up, to or in can lead to a wealth of material possibilities" (37).

This type of writing, this way of thinking about the magical properties of words, as well as their placement on the page, their sonic power — is in keeping with the avant guard Language poets who started a movement in the late-60s and early-70s. I am also thinking back to the 1950s, to Charles Olsen and Robert Creeley of the Black Mountain Poets of North Carolina, and I am also reminded of the Beat Generation, in particular Allen Ginsberg of New York City. These were writers who defied convention. I am thinking of Alice Notley, American poet, alive today, whose experimental poetry blurred the division between poetry and prose. The contributors of this anthology are like-minded. There are many poems that live in that shared space between two genres.

Fair to say that while this anthology breaks boundaries — geographically as well as on the page — it forges ahead by making language a place. As Nancy Gaffield quotes in her 7-part poem:

"My knowledge of everyday life has the quality of an instrument that cuts a path through the forest and, as it does so, projects a narrow cone of light on what lies just ahead and immediately around; on all sides of the path there continues to be darkness" (211).

While Gaffield makes language a place, Mông-Lan extends this idea by sensing a written piece as a being alive. In her essay titled "ESSAY: POETICS STATEMENT," the writer suggests "I write what I witness, what I feel and think, bridging cultures, bridging understanding between the sexes and human beings" (206). She even describes a poem as a "living entity," one that, when read, can heal.

I agree. I am of the belief that a poem carries a vibration of its maker. In this collection we can sense the collective energy of women who have come together through sound and meaning, from places near and far. They mend by bridging the distances they originate from.

Title: women: poetry: migration
Author: Jane Joritz-Nakagwa, editor
Publisher: theenk Books
Publication Date: 2017


Therése Halscheid’s latest poetry collection Frozen Latitudes (Press 53) received an Eric Hoffer Book Award. Other collections include Uncommon Geography, Without Home, Powertalk, and a chapbook award by Pudding House Publications. Recipient of contest awards, her poetry and lyric essays have appeared in such magazines as Gettysburg Review, Tampa Review, Sou’wester, Natural Bridge. She is an itinerant writer by way of house-sitting. Her photography chronicles her nomadic lifestyle. She teaches for Atlantic Cape Community College and has taught in unusual locales such as Eskimo village in northern Alaska, and the Ural Mountains of Russia.