“Love took the words right out of my mouth.” So begins the first line of Christopher Jane Corkery’s poignant and unforgettable new collection of poems. Throughout the work these two themes—the power and mystery of language, especially the crafted one of poetry, and what Keats called “the holiness of the heart’s affections”—intertwine, accumulating a rich panoply of associations and meanings.
The occasions for Corkery’s poems are often domestic: the thrill of youthful romance, of marriage and family, of children inventing new worlds. Yet here also are a poet’s acts, psychological and spiritual, in a life which, like every reader’s life, contains plenty and its absence all at once.
Objects matter here—a bread board, a swing, a still life—but so do places (from New England to Paris and Seville). The poet is also joined by the ghostly presences of poets and mystics, from Teresa of Avila, John Keats, and George Herbert to Emily Dickinson and William Butler Yeats.
Again and again Corkery is drawn to the essential way that poetry enacts love. In fullness or in scarcity, in loving or in grief, both writer and reader are engaged, fulfilling the contract of poetry.
In her poem ‘Hawthorn and Waxwings’ Corkery looks lovingly at what these birds, fellow creatures, do, working hard at those trembling berries, to ward off death, and in her other poems she looks as lovingly at what other fellow creatures do. Corkery has said about how these poems look at our fellow creatures: ‘We were storing love in our cells for a reason.’ I love this book.
David Ferry, author of Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations
Beneath a modest surface these poems struggle with all the big questions–and then have the courage to end in defeat. ‘No answer, no answer, ‘ concludes ‘By the Ocean’; and yet somehow that is an answer, and a satisfying one at that. Meanwhile Corkery offers the particularities of ongoing life as our best alternative. A dry riverbed in Tuscany, waxwings eating hawthorn berries in a magical miniature–this is what we can have instead of answers. These poems, at once wry, frank, and heartbroken, balance on the knife’s edge between light and dark.
Linda Bamber, author of Metropolitan Tang
What binds together Christopher Jane Corkery’s new collection of poems? Memory without nostalgia, grief without self-pity, sirens, laughter and–from start to finish–a formally adept and musical ear. It has been too many years since Blessing, her remarkable first book, and now we see that it has been worth the wait.
Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift