Tuesday, February 05, 2013

On Janine Canan's ARDOR: poems of life

i don't do many reviews on my poetry blog.  in fact, this is only the second review i have been asked to do by other poets.  but then, i am always up for a new experience.  a new challenge.

reading Janine Canan's Ardor: poems of life was not much of a challenge, though.  it was more of a journey.  unplanned, not perfect, but overall rather pleasant, and sorely topical.
my knowledge of Janine Canan began with a comment left on one of my own blog posts by Cristina, a friend of Janine's.  Cristina very kindly asked me if i would be interested in reading and writing about Janine's newest collection of poetry.  so i sought out Janine via google.  i found her website and some pretty pictures of a white haired woman with poems like "beloved mother" (which epitomizes much of the poetry by Janine that i have now read).  because i was asked so nicely; and because i find Janine's look so endearing, nurturing, soft; because some day i want to be a pretty, white haired older lady with books of poetry for sale; and because i felt like taking on a little project, i emailed Janine and asked for a copy of her book.
i hadn't paid much attention to the picture of the book on the website.  when i opened the package though, i was suddenly faced with a book i had to read.  a book i had to read.  that's no way to begin a review, is it?  the ugly green and impressionistic floral arrangement on the cover of the book left me a little lack luster at the onset.  but since I've held the book near me for over a week, i find the picture of the painting a little more casual, a little more... made.  (sorry, this pea-soup green is still not doing anything for me though).  alas, we do not judge books on their covers alone.
inside i was greeted with warm wishes from the poet herself, followed by the realization (because i am one of those people who reads the copyright pages of books) that the bound pages i now held in my hand were printed and glued in India.  i don't think any of the other books i have are from India.  mostly England, America, Canada, and a few Lebanese pieces, but this is my first from India.  although i am not entirely sure why that would endear me to a text, it very much does.  perhaps it's the quality of knowing how traveled a product is, how unique it is in that right. 
with this, i sat myself down and surrounded myself with the pleasures of India i have adapted into my imagination from a few choice films (eat, prey, love and the best exotic marigold hotel, to be exact) and tucked into Janine's work.
i began reading.  the first poem was nice.  the second poem... i smiled.  i smiled out of confusion and surprise.  a kind of head-tilted smile.  what's going on here?  Janine, an established poet, is telling her readership, in the second poem, that she's the poet.  that these are poems.  that these poems are words.  that these words are important.  i shook my head a little at this unnecessary and blatant approach at establishing the poet's ethos.  i didn't let it slow me down too much though, considering that every greek poet is heralded for this very gesture.  what was even stranger to me was that merely 29 pages later, Janine further presses her ethos as the poet on the readership by telling us that she is "just a poet".    
ethos aside, the collection of poems focuses very heavily on womanhood.  there are, without a doubt, issues surrounding the genders today, as there have been for all of history.  although i, myself, feel very privileged to live where and when i do, the gap between men and women is significant and visceral.  the issue is so prevalent in the text, however, that by page 79 i wrote this note in pencil: i am beginning to feel that these poems help only to draw attention to and, therefore, widen the gap between genders/sexes. as a woman reading this, i feel, with each poem, more and more, that i am being littled and driven down.  this is probably not the poet's intent.
indeed not.  i believe Janine's intent is clearly to praise women.  the juxtaposed imagery of men and women is in such high contrast throughout the collection, though, that it really does draw attention to the gap, the divide.  admittedly, this is the first step towards healing.  as a culture, perhaps it is important that we all read some of Janine's poems and acknowledge the divide, to have it repeatedly show to us through comparing and contrasting sights.
i felt, while reading, bogged down in the mire of women's issues.  there are, however, a few bright gems sprinkled throughout the collection... "Mountain Moving Day is here--/believe it or not", "...Would you really/rather be a cow or/a lizard?", "...shouting in a voice so loud/even the deaf can hear", "I was a peach dripping gold/and you drank me",  and whole poems like "Bowl of Gold" that displays variety in Janine's view of herself and the world beyond who and what a woman is to the rest of the universe. 
i dog-eared just over 20 out of the over 200 poems in the book.  there are moments of grace and beauty, of abundance and virtue.  there are poems in this collection i will reread and learn more about over time. 
politics and individual poems aside, the entire collection carried me from thought to thought, question to question.  even when i began to beg the book for something specific, it seemed to deliver.  for example, i began to crave something solid, something real, an itch, something dirty and authentic.  lo, the next page was of a poem wherein the poet exposes her every thought as it occurs, including the need to wash some dishes.  when i began to crave something sweet, towards the very end of reading, to sweeten my final experiences with the text, Janine and her book provided it in the simple three-stanza poem "Sunflower"--22 pretty words turned into a pretty scene. 
so while there are some poems in the book i adore, the book really works best as a book.  it is not the kind of poetry i think i would garner any true meaning or pleasure from by reading just one poem.  the entire text must be engaged all at once for the benefit of the reader, the poetry, and the poet.
as a female poet myself, while i lust over the modernists and new york school of poets, i have a softer spot in my heart for the likes of Louise Erdrich, Bernadette Mayer, Anna Akhmatova, Marie Howe, Lyn Hejinian, Mina Loy and Marianne Moore.  all strong female figures whom i admire for their bravery, their femininity, their sexuality, and their strength of character. 
i am not sure, only to be fair to her, if Janine Canan is among these women in my poetess's heart quite yet.  although her work is pure in its intention, i am not sure the delivery--the product as it is presented without context of the nice white haired woman--stands up with those greats.  but among contemporary female poets, i believe Janine is a finer example.
as a collection, read cover to cover, the document works.  it tells an over-arching story of women's struggle along with moments of ease which allow the reader to arch her back and take a deep breath.  it meets expectations and follows the reader's thoughts throughout.  the organization of poems was well-executed.  to open up a random page and read; however, left me a little unsatisfied.

so while the entire collection strikes me as neither good nor bad, it does feel completely honest (true to Janine, i think).  and i don't know that i can demand much more of poetry.

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