about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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dark acre
A Review of dark acre
by Canese Jarboe

Spencer Dew

Morse code has a particular domestic history. The first words of Jarboe’s collection are written in this code, a series of dots and dashes, which triggered associations, for me, with the imaginative expanse and simultaneous confines and constraints of the attempted covert communications of youth. I remember Morse code from the legend, the cryptography key, printed on a set of battery-powered walkie-talkies. It is a secret language of childhood, the marks of a romantic notion of and simultaneously distance from the outdoor, the idea of nature as a place apart. Morse code, for generations of American children, conveyed at once the sharp, fresh smell of dirt, of trees, and the musty scent of that old tent stored in a bundle in the basement corner, the narrow and mildly mildewed sleeping bag pillow. This is Jarboe’s territory, the fluctuating, tense relation between the idea of the wild and the broke-down mediations through which we largely encounter it: Styrofoam bait shop go-cups roiling with nightcrawlers, the sounds of weather being described on television, childhood memories of caves that felt endless, childhood rumors about the portal to hell in the woods at the edge of town, childhood craft projects wherein miniature lakes were fashioned from aluminum foil—shiny when smooth, but jaggedly sharp when wind-blown.

Jarboe takes this disjunction and drags it through sexuality, the developments thereof (a maxi pad patching a leaking ceiling; a father who would have preferred calves to daughters) as well as sexuality’s increasing theatrics (dark honey shining on a ceiling fan’s paddle, crotches rubbed against leather). The body, too—especially in arousal, desiring—is another kind of wilderness. “This is the fuzz of me,” we read, “the soft, dark” a “Tunnel of My Exact Dimensions.” Poems here touch on rented pools, dowsing rods, and poking stars with sewing needles. Fruit juice, hot salsa, the body’s secretions, the ointment used by witches to fly: all such substances flow together here, “o flavr savr    o ripening    o goodbye.” Narrators dance sensually in barns, contemplate linoleum knives and harmonicas, express discontent with fertility.

One striking poem, “Herbal Abortion,” builds out on this oscillation between slouchy interior and imagined outside: “when I say I lived in a cave that summer, what / I really mean is aluminum camper full of salamanders, no, / I mean I lived inside my own womb.” There is the idea of spelunking, all mystery and glory, infinity and new worlds. Then there is the hum of a mini-fridge, “midnight parsley tea, mega-dose of vitamin c.”

Yet Jarboe’s stance is hardly a rejection of the potential—the inspiring power—of the wild. “If you look inside the refrigerator if you look / inside the Styrofoam cup There / is a very still luna moth that will fly / if we take her out on this warm night This / is how you survive” one poem says. Surrounded by taxidermy, by moldering relics that serve as warnings as to what can be lost, one voice here makes clear what is required: “My fingers are fillet knives: / they’ve got to be.” That is a call of and from and for the wild, to be tapped and scraped out in its own primitive, hypnotizing code.

Official Canese Jarboe Web Site
Official Willow Springs Books Web Site

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