Jazmine Linklater’s debut poetry pamphlet has everything that readers of contemporary experimental poetry might expect from a Zarf edition: daring and sensitive linguistic experimentation, gorgeous imagery put to work in service of expanding the boundaries of what’s possible, and a light dusting of magic. Linklater’s accomplished first collection explores the expansive potential of the lyric to hold stories and vocabularies that reach through time and across cultures, invoking and inverting epic tropes to create something much more subtle and understated: a gesturing toward passion that’s quivering at the edges of every poem.
A feminist re-working of the lyric/epic traditions that begins with the injunction to ‘Remember you are elsewhere’, the first two poems ‘Her Stammer’ and ‘The world as (h)is’ place the feminine outside of history, tradition, culture: ‘(we speak never of but meet / secret in margins …)’, describing male-female relationality using the formula ‘object (f)/subject (m)’ and suggesting the world is ‘seldom elles’, playing on the Old English etymological root of the word ‘else’ ( sp. ‘elles’) and the French pronoun ‘elle’ (she/her). Throughout the collection, however, readers are invited to ‘reclaim the elsewhere’, to become the ‘Heroines Female heroes’ of this understated reclamation epic. Of the four dance poems, Pyrrhic Dance is dedicated to the posthumous pardoning of Alan Turing and 49,000 other men who had been punished for ‘crimes’ under homophobic laws. Reclaiming the elsewhere is an injunction and an invitation not just to women or those who identify as women, but to all those who have for too long met secretly in the margins. In a moment of incantatory magic, we proclaim and imbibe our own affirmation:
our pollen-clogged mouths
glitter syrups & we drink
yes we drink Yes.
The poems in this collection are richly layered, with vocabulary gleaned from a wide selection of poetic, philosophical, cultural and popular sources – the notes and acknowledgements at the end of the pamphlet make visible the processes at work in the poetry, defining the edges and seams that open the poems out to other works, other wor(l)ds, and foregrounding the poetic artifice in the act of construction. Through collaged citations, Linklater invokes the contemporary feminist poetics of Emily Critchley, Amy De’Ath and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, as well as Scott Thurston’s investigation of the lyric form in its relation to contemporary dance practices, curating an appropriate lineage for the primary thematic and formal concerns explored in Toward Passion According.
These poems reward multiple readings and unhurried reflection. Perhaps none more so than ‘Artemisia/Susanna/Abra/Judith/Diana/Artemis’, a choral/dramatic/epic response to various classical stimuli including the graphically violent depiction of Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. This painting belongs to the group called the Power of Women and shows a scene from the apocryphal Book of Judith (Old Testament) in which Judith beheads the Assyrian general Holofernes. Gentileschi’s rendition inserts her own face as the face of Judith with the face of her mentor Agostino Tassi, who was tried in court for her rape, as Holofernes. In Linklater’s poetic working through of this image she presents ‘woman as actionary / negation as actionary / revenge as possible’. The poem is a complex and multivocal drama, restless on the page and restless in its incomplete syntactical arrangements. It’s an assertion of feminine power as makers of art and feminine potential to make history.
For me, though, it is the four dance poems that are the most subtly powerful poems in this collection. These poems delight in their linguistic play, incorporating found text that gives them both physicality and dexterity, such as ‘I saw shoulder tension interrupt your line / your spiral containing its height / reel unflickering your lightful fiction’ in Lyric Dance. There’s sound play such as the alliteration and semi-rhyme in ‘& blows / bled into words’ or ‘Take tambour’s beat / you back arch / bacchic spine’ in Bacchic Dance.
Multiple references in the dance poems to lines, such as ‘interrupt your line’ (quoted above), as well as
line / limit / laws’
and ‘body re-build measure my line’ give the poems a metapoetic quality foregrounding the experimentation with line length at work throughout the collection and in these poems in particular. Pyrrhic Dance begins with the line ‘The beginning and the end is breath’ and includes an unattributed quote from Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’: ‘The kinetics of the thing’. These poems derive a kinetic quality on the page from their experimentation with line length and positioning. Bacchic Dance steps across the page, occupying more space than is conventional for a (traditional) poem, in an expression of the collection’s call for the feminine to reclaim the elsewhere, to take up physical space in places traditionally denied to women/others. This gesture also performs a sense of the movement of dance, and requires readers to become aware of their own movements while reading.
Jazmine Linklater’s poetic voice seems to grow in skill and confidence from the beginning to the end of the pamphlet. While the earlier poems have definite strength, it’s the subtlety of the second half of the collection that feels most powerful to me. Drawing on a rich tradition of modern and contemporary feminist poetics, Toward Passion According seeks to expand the lyric form to make it inclusive of multiple voices, positions and perspectives. It achieves this and so much more.
About the Publisher:
ZARF is a quarterly magazine of new experimenting poetry and pamphlet press. it started in 2015 and is edited by calum gardner
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster. Her poems have been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf. The Unfinished Dream, a collaborative chapbook with visual artist Joe Evans, was published by Sad Press in 2016. She is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press and she is on the judging panel for The Republic of Consciousness Prize. Follow her on Twitter: @Spaewitch.