Jan Zwicky, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth

I was so moved by lines of this book of poems that I found myself writing poetry myself - and that doesn't happen much anymore. In Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, Jan Zwicky stretches her grasp, and stretches my ability to keep up with her, but there are places in the middle of this collection where I can't imagine that she can write much more piercingly about the problem of being.

She comments a couple of times that being occurs in that moment between inhaling and exhaling, that poised moment of nothingness during which we briefly exist purely. The poems attempt to reach into that moment, to bring back the impossible words to reveal or describe or share that experience. When it works, it's gorgeous. When it doesn't, well, at least it doesn't feel as forced as it does when (God forgive me) poets appeal to Buddhism as a kind of transcendent signifier of Great Personal Depth, Man. It just doesn't speak to me, but that failure has less to do with ability and more to do with Zwicky's far greater familiarity with classical music and jazz. Many of these poems speak to or follow the rhythms of particular musical works, and I don't have the ability to distinguish (without research) between specific works by Bill Evans, or between Mozart and Bach pieces.

Gosh, it can be lovely, though:
if we could learn
to let go without leaving then
our real lives could begin. ("Transparence," p.37)

A dream
is a carving knife,
and the scar it opens in the world
is history. ("The Geology of Norway," p.32)


jo(e) said…
After that description of her poetry, I am looking forward to reading some of it ....
richard said…
You might try this link as a sample: one poem from Zwicky's Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, plus a decent assessment of it by poet Aislinn Hunter. (One of the best from this book, I'd say.)
richard said…
Or even better (why can't Google searches work the first time?!), you could just listen to Jan Zwicky read some of her poems here, at the Atwater Library site. (Based in Montreal, it's the country's oldest library that actually lends out books.) There are also a few to read at the Antigonish Review.
jo(e) said…
I really loved hearing the poems in her voice. Just wonderful.

Popular Posts