Jude Neale's poetic memoir just published by Leaf Press, traces her journey from childhood, through motherhood, to the fulfillment of a joyous partnership. The poems start with a moment of ephemeral childhood delight and travel through loneliness and silences and depression into celebrations of passion, sex and love. She finishes with A Quiety Coming of Light, a word picture which is realized to perfection in the beautiful cover photograph of our Pacific rain forest.
Some of us were lucky enough to be present at The Gallery at Artisan Square last Sunday for Jude's book launch. Poems, songs and more poems: a lovely event.
Jude offers this orientation at the start of the book:
Great grief and indigo darkness are the places where you learn what is real. I spent my life searching for a fairy-tale ending to ease my despair. Then one morning the world was swollen with light so bright that I wanted to press it into a golden book of poems. I do not trust each shiny day but am cautiously grateful for my glimpse into the spectacular. These poems are linked by the articulated creature we know as love. They are woven from strands of hard shadow into a collection of observations of a woman no longer on her knees.
That's a powerful piece of poetic prose, and if you like the wordsmithing here, you will love the poems too.
Jude crafts phrases that do the work that poetry is supposed to do: to invite you stop and take time to reflect. Some examples:
'gather my flock of pain
to my breast like stray lambs'
'she's a winter-winged sparrow
always waiting for comfort'
And from the poem "After Birth", on the gulf between mother and grown-up child:
'You sound so happy
and full as a wren's nest'
While unspoken mother-love is like 'a small piece of grit in the eye.'
Jude's trademarks are a tension between delicacy and power, between obliqueness and honesty, between unmawkish sorrow and ironic humour at her own expense. (Check out the leopard-print lingerie poem.)
She ranges from the bluntness of the woman re-reading her suicide notes,
'squint[ing] at yesterday's sorrow
like it's a mouse turd
found under the sink'
("Ties That Bind")
To her phantom pregnancy poem, "Wishful Thinking":
'One little problem
I have been tied up in fallopian knots for decades to avoid all the fuss of spillage and leaks.'
Every word is weighed and does its work. There is nothing superfluous here. The poem "An Avalanche" starts:
She can't close her eyes but to see him
hair caught with ice,
anchored to this heartbreak like a star.
Her hands clamp shut silent pleas
of if only.
Anyone who knows, or can imagine, such devastating loss will be grateful for the breathtakingly accurate crystallization of the experience in these few, well chosen words.
I think Jude's poems appeal to women especially, because of their stark and knowing honesty and because they celebrate woman power:
'I was the one
who broke both your knees
with one glance'
It's perhaps more impressive that they appeal to men too. Sir Andrew Motion, past British Poet Laureate, praises Jude's blend of "formal control and emotional weight" and commends the apparent simplicity of the poems.
Jude admits in the very first poem of this collection to having a "weakness" for "hanging her childhood out to dry."
We are grateful to her for this "weakness" in sharing her special vision of life with us.