Love is Not Anonymous

saskatoon starphoenix / regina leader-post, november 28, 2015

Saskatoon's Thistledown Press has just released its 12th New Leaf Editions Series of first books for emerging writers (all titles $12.95). This year three of those writers are from Saskatchewan [...]

From Big River comes Jan Wood with, as she puts it in the collection's last poem, "a compilation/ of love's signatures." It's that, and it's also an update on the story of innocence and experience, this one lively, fluid, and urgently feminine as the sensual intersects with the spiritual, and vice versa.

In Love is Not Anonymous, Wood does what various women poets before her have done, which is to query the place of women in various parts of the Christian Bible and its service, and, by implication, in life. Using both italicized asides to God and her own experience, Wood recalls episodes in her's and others' lives when the girl crossed the line into womanhood, or its beginning, as in Skating in the Exit Light or The First Time, or crossed the line into a tarnished reputation, as in The Sin Nobody Wanted and Half Moon Nights. In these last two she ponders both the delicacy of crossing such lines, and who decides where and how those lines are drawn.

Temptation and reputation are neither avoided nor guaranteed by a wedding ring, as Wood notes in Summer Storm ("She convinces herself she is not in danger"), Probing the Depth, the obviously titled Temptation, and the very good So Much Depends on the Time of Day.

Two poems that nicely book-end this whole business of innocence, experience, and the doorways between are Listening to Bruce Cockburn, in which a woman discovers that her perception of events at age 14 and her mother's were hilariously different, and She Laughs Because, in which the woman, now a grandmother holding a baby, ends the poem, "she has never been an age/ that was appropriate before." The one locates burgeoning womanhood as a place fraught with danger, the other is a beautifully incisive comment on the precarious position of the female in our social construct: now a grandmother, safe at last.

— Bill Roberston

sPG book reviews, november 5, 2015

It’s a happy coincidence when a poet’s name reflects one of his or her subjects. As I read Love is Not Anonymous, one of four books released as part of Thistledown Press’s 12th New Leaf Editions Series, I discovered that Jan Wood is an example of this synergy. Wood calls Big River SK home–anyone who knows this heavily-treed area will understand the nameleitmotif connection-and while the book’s back cover blurb addresses the poet’s handling of love, relationships and spirituality, I keep returning to the poems that indirectly honour the natural world.

Among these is “Awakening,” where the narrator’s night-driving on a rain-slick road, and “at the edge of the swamp-spruce” a bull moose appears. Though the poet tries to capture a decent photograph where “the Northern Saskatchewan forestintertwines with moose, muskeg and sky,” her “Details of the night area thousand apertures and nothing”. She becomes philosophical in the final stanza, and it’s this layering-the real world of a bridge and rain and headlights juxtaposed against what it may all mean in the big picture-that marks this poem a success.

Clumsily human, I teeter
on the edge of oneness
slow my breath until
the beauty I behold can bear my weight.

More evidence of Wood’s fine way with the natural world is revealed in metaphors and personification. “Ringed moon in a January skya pale tambourine,” she writes in “Elle”. In “Dangerous as Whiskey,” which I’m assuming to be a spring poem, “water has its hands all over he morning” and “night drips with a language hat it dares not speak.” Sometimes there’s a confluence of natural and religious images, as in this dandy from “communion”: “on Sundays a week’s supply of holymelts on her tongue like a snowflake”. This, friends, is first-rate poetry.

I know the poet’s doing her job when she writes so evocatively of winter I find myself missing the snow and engaging in prairie-type activities, like skating. Wood’s poem “Skating in the Exit Light” features a twelve-year-old girl and a boy she’s interested in sneaking into the rink to steal some alone time-and figure eights-on the ice.

In several of these poems we’re given the poetic outline of an event and are called upon to use our imaginations to fill in the details. Some are more forthcoming, like “Duplex,” with its theme of domestic abuse. For those new to reading poetry, I advise reading the back cover copy and perhaps the publisher’s online notes (if available) about the work before beginning a book; poetry is often spare, and the aforementioned texts can provide helpful hints on the content.

Finally, a word about this book’s gorgeous cover. The photograph of a female statue (perhaps representative of the biblical Mary?) among red-berried conifers could be enough to make anyone grab this book off a shelf. I hope you do just that.

— Shelley A. Leedahl, SaskBooks