By: Jeanie Thompson
Reviewed by: Jake Berry
River City Publishing, 2009
The title of Jeanie Thompson’s new book is extracted from a letter written by James Wright. A portion of it appears as an introductory quote: “[The seasons] move, as we move, from place to place. As we move, we carry them and they carry us . . . the seasons bear us.”
This sense of the seasons is evidenced in the rich poems that fill Thompson’s new collection. The seasons also express another sense of bearing—they produce us. We are, all creatures and their creations, a result of the inclinations of nature (and nature is a constant presence in Thompson’s poetry). As such, her work here continues the development of phases and voices that evidence her awareness of this reality. It would not be inaccurate to say that The Seasons Bear Us is a celebration of that sense of nature, perhaps more so than in any of her previous collections.
Seasons is composed of sequences of poems, sometimes falling one after the other, sometimes interwoven with other poems. There are hints of new voices or perhaps new developments in the poet’s voice in poems like “Woman, Alone in October,” not radically different from what she has written before but with a different slant on the transparency of identity: “She wanted to enter the light’s song . . . .” The sense of place has become as much a place in motion as a place of residence.
The sequence “Mother Memory” is touching to anyone—mother, father, grandparent, or other caregiver—who has known the details of a child’s body, understood the language of its various cries and breathings. Both people grow into something that neither expected: “When you are out late at night, in the arms of forces / I cannot contain or trace beyond the static crackle in the brief cell phone / call, I have come to understand that I want to give you back, / to yourself . . . .”
Though the child is forever connected, his or her individuality is experienced as a loss of self. The person we contained and protected is now quite beyond us. “Mother Memory” dwells on this mystery in deftly articulated, poignant lines.
Thompson saves what is perhaps the strongest, most vivid poetry for the final sequence—written during a trip to northern Italy. (The cover features a beautifully resonant photo taken by Wayne Sides in the centuries-old olive groves of the region.) In these poems she brings her poetic gift for rendering nature and love as one with song embodied in landscape. Moving into ancient vistas, art, and architecture, the poet crosses a threshold into an interior as real as the exterior geography: “That first night, we walked into the ancient city and I knew home.” It is discovered in meeting an old lover, in self-recognition in another, a deep transition: “In the dream that holds me, I step over a clear demarcation / into the city—ancient, rich, pungent and dark . . . .”
The sense of place in these Italian poems is rendered in masterful description, but the poems go further. They move beyond the everyday world and into that greater life that contains all things and compels our natural sense of awe: “We might wander here for years, children in a fairy tale / hearts brimmed full with the deepening color, welcoming / / those who seek its presence past the call of home . . . .”
Indeed The Seasons Bear Us evokes something timeless that cannot be named. It can only be revealed in poetry, and this poetry reveals it with profound clarity. It is a journey we experience with the poet because the journey belongs in a fundamental way to all of us. April 2009
Jake Berry is a poet, songwriter, musician, and visual artist. His books include Brambu Drezi, Silence and the Hammer with photographer Wayne Sides, and Species of Abandoned Light. His most recent CD is Liminal Blue. He lives with his wife Bridget and two cats in Florence, Alabama.