Monday, 30 March 2009

Paula Jennings

I recently received "From the Body of the Green Girl", by Paula Jennings, a pamphlet of poems from Happenstance Press and I can't remember when I have ever enjoyed a pamphlet as much. The blurb on the back describes the poems as "rich, strange...of surreal imagination.. unconventional spirituality". They are certainly all of that, but more than that they filter into your mind, and haunt you with their freshness, their bold entry into other dimensions until you feel that you are living simultaneously in two different spaces, this tangible, visible world and an 'other', invisible world, the one we all try to imagine, the one beyond this; a world that Paula Jennings has no hesitation in visiting at will, and thereby bringing the reader into it. In "Elegy for Ben" she imagines Ben in that other world where animals 'converse with no words' and Ben

the language of lean muscle,
the narrow muzzle that translates complexities
of scent'

as if Ben has slid into the animal world in every sensual way while we 'are dull strangers' in a world 'where the foxes trust us with nothing'. Jennings has a remarkable abilty in her work to slip into the very skin of things and be something other than herself. In "Driving in Autumn" she enters a dream of abandoning daily stress and letting her animal archetype carry her; there is a 'flow of fur from road to verge' she 'brakes', 'unbuckles' herself into her animal and then they are travelling through 'stiff stars of cow parsley' observing black leaves against the moon, listening to the 'wing-beats of sycamore keys' until 'every weed in the ditch is breathing'. It is wonderful stuff, the transformation of self into something other, a journey both beyond and yet also vividly into our familar world. And it is this quality in the poems - of the thing that lies beyond or beneath, brought to life in vital and real, grounded terms, - that makes these poems so memorable. It becomes quite chilling in the poem sequence "Looking for God" where Jennings lists the vast canopy that makes up our planet and ends

'I give you dominion,
he says,
nudging it all towards me
with a polished boot'.

I found in those brief lines a perfect summary of why it's all gone so badly wrong for us; this God is more like some kind of Nazi figure, and his entrusting us with 'dominion' is like setting us a terrible test that he knows we will fail.`
The poem that most encapsulates Jennings' power for me was "The Day Before the Last One", an apocalyptic poem where the last things she is given are a tin mug and a left shoe by people whose 'eyes are empty but whose 'guns are full of purpose'. Her 'unreachable mind' sees the shoe filled with mountains, the mug filled with goat's milk.
And because I too am getting older I really enjoyed the poem that contains the title line of the pamphlet, "Autumn Equinox" where Jennings sees old age surfacing from the 'body of the green girl' and turning into the Cailleach or Crone, 'flapping her rags' shuffling through 'dry leaves', which turns into a very reassuring and uplifting poem when the Crone

'smiles my seasons into me, so implacable
and tender that I want to keep her.'

These are poems that smile their seasons into you and are themselves so implacable and tender that you want to keep them with you, always.

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