Jessica Garratt’s Fire Pond

BY RUTH JOYNTON, Nonfiction Editor

41WHWUj84VL._SX106_As a lover of Rilke, I remember reading Duino Elegies for the first time, nineteen years old, how one thick poem could sustain me for days.  It was proof that exhaustion is not always the reader’s enemy: when done right, it even satisfies.  It seemed impossible to read a book of Rilke’s in a very short amount of time (have I read all of his work yet?) and really understand it.  Still the work sustained me, and kept me coming back.  Jessica Garratt’s poems in her first book, Fire Pond, are crafted differently but stem from the same root of a good-willed doubting look at the world.  They also satisfy.

For a cerebral, philosophically-minded poet, Garratt is honest.  This is what invites the reader back—the no bullshit policy of her poems.  The opening piece “Abstract” starts straight: “Many are alone./ This is the specific and the universal/ truth.”  While not made to go as slow as Rilke’s, Garratt’s poems do work very well when read in pairs.  Two in the book are inspired by Duino’s author: “Elegy” and “Without.”   The excellent order of the poems in this collection lends to the pairing method: longing for safety, the theme of “Foundation,” returns as the theme in the following poem, “The state of things.”  This is true for most of Fire Pond, except its title poem set mid-way through the book.

“Fire Pond” is a series of ten sonnets more musical but equally as meditative as the previous third of the collection.  Set in Peterborough, New Hampshire, the speaker seems in forceful retreat.  She is attempting to talk herself out of contact with a lover who is ultimately not hers: “hours of whir/ bending round conversation with a man/ who’s married, who’s your friend, who, there, again,/ tickles the boundary from straight line to curve/…wheeling newish luggage/ around the weedy periphery…”  Because of the angling curiosity of the book’s beginning, the music of the ten sonnets comes as a deft and welcome swing in tone.  Garratt demonstrates her dexterity in both modes again as the book closes almost as soft—but sure—as it began: “nothing, more like sinking so far in/ to the leaden season of Lent, as to arrive/ in its dark reversal, an overripe underworld/ of moveable feasts…”