Contemporary Poetry Finds Its Place out of Time
This review was originally published November, 2018 on Vocal.Media. It may have been subject to editing changes.
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Published by Ravenna Press in 2017, the poet and prose author Jane Rosenberg LaForge‘s work Daphne And Her Discontents weaves a complicated, personal family history and ancient Greek myth into a complete, original poetry collection. The intertwining of personal stories with a piece of history shared by the world allows these poems to travel into the past, throughout the present and well into the future. This strategy elevates LaForge’s collection to a new plane. It also effectively destabilizes readers as LaForge has done quite well in creating an atmosphere which feels as though “…we move as though space and sea inverted…”
Readers must be warned that the poetry is deceptively easy to page through. LaForge’s style of writing tricks her readers into thinking that the meanings of the poems will be clear upon their first interaction with them; however, that is not the case, despite the clean cut style of the pieces. Just as the nymph Daphne skirted her way through the woods in an attempt to escape Apollo’s burning, groping fingers, these poems will skirt through the readers’ grasps. LaForge has effectively rewritten the age old myth; no longer are nymphs turned into docile trees. Instead, her readers will find themselves transfigured into rapacious gods, seething at what they cannot obtain. In this instance, that is the satisfaction of ultimate understanding upon demand.
As the readers make their way through the collection, they will be struck by its freedom, its refusal to be bound and forced to follow a strict timeline. In “Agassiz Guesses,” the speaker’s musing, “Does my age only register when I measure my flaws?” seems to be directed at the human species itself in its present and future configurations. Have human beings roamed this earth long enough so that the time for first mistakes, for all members of its species, is over? If we had not confined ourselves within the trappings of domestication or “…the old dogma of who is who and what is not important…” would we have remained vital and young as LaForge illustrates in “Pre-Daphne”:
Before my father turned me into a tree, I was fire, skin and all the atomic numbers I could not count to because I had no smarts or they were all in my feet, and hands, a trunk and its fingers, and I was wild…
It can be argued that the stringent requirements of civilization have led to many humans feeling as though we have lost our animal roots. Instead of beasts of prey as our fore bearers were, we have become automatons left “…blank / where the blood should be, / torn where the words began…” and “…more decor than inspiration…”, yet LaForge reminds us all that, “I am still human / beneath this bark / and decoration.” The pieces included in this collection will lead readers into a world of questions as if they are “books whose pages…peeled open as if to reveal other hungers…”
The collection begs many questions of its readers, one of which being: are human beings doubled over with regret and “…the commitment to restrictions…”, a species waiting to die under the weight of our confounding stubbornness, our hubris? Perhaps that is the case, since “…even man’s language has its limits.” And yet, as is noted in “The Tree-Making Process,” the human species must “endure or die…”
Daphne And Her Discontents is Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s second full volume of poetry. In 2012, she produced With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women. Both, along with her other publications, which include chapbooks and works of fiction, are available on Amazon.com. If readers find themselves grappling with this collection of poetry it will behoove them to keep in mind that they should read at a relaxed pace. No good relationship ever got anywhere by the execution of brute force. Poetry is a forever dancing form of art after all and requires both partners to follow its rhythm.
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