What book of poetry isn’t autobiographical? At least in some way? The true task is perhaps not to veer into maudlin self- appreciation or grief, to keep the affection to non-cloying decency, and offer description and observation beyond the confines of one’s own character. In A Quiet Coming of Light, her second collection of verse, Jude Neale succeeds in these standards and more, and if the tone of the writing frequently traverses the boundaries of opera, this can be forgiven by the fact she is known to sing her poems in a classically trained voice, filling the reading hall with much more than is usually expected.
But leave aside autobiography and consider what the real content is: Unless the poet has spent most of their life in prison after a dysfunction-filled childhood, most of what will be discussed is love, the aspects thereof, the absence, recovery, celebration and conveyance. The love-anger heart of Neale’s book might lie in a poem called “The Suit,” with its uniquely restrained and yet palpable antipathy: “On Tuesday afternoons / you’d fumble at your buttons / […] and your ashtray-throwing wife. / You were a stiff-backed crow / dragging a soft shuffle of steps / across the living room floor.”
The bad feelings persist: in “Are You Dead Yet?,” danger imagery and latent belligerence bubbles over at a time of crisis: “One moment we’re driving / along the mountain highway / telling each other our secret / desires. […] We came to a stop between a tree / and a drop off. / I looked over to tell you / you’re an idiot driver, / and saw you slump like a bag of conkers / over the steering wheel.” On display in this excerpt: an allowance for appreciation of affection, disaffection, and subtle comedy all in the same stanza. Add in the economy of word and control of imagery and you have quite an agile trick—what makes Neale’s writing here a particular discovery.
As delightful as this book is to peruse and learn from, to enjoy the melodic turns of rhythm and word-sound, there is, alas, one aspect that gives pause: a plethora of “like,” (as in her wonderful long poem, “Ferrying Dreamers,”) the dependency on which taints much of what is otherwise free-flow verse. George Bowering, invoking Charles Olson, has said: “I have inveighed against similes for decades…” In “Projective Verse” (1950), Olson opines: “… there is a whole flock of rhetorical devices. Simile is only one bird who comes down, too easily. The descriptive functions generally have to be watched, every second. Any slackness takes off attention, that crucial thing, from the job in hand, from the push of the line under hand…”
However, there are splendours aplenty in A Quiet Coming of Light which override any technical quibbles. Among the richness of remembered scenes and images, Neale’s deft rhythmic touch credits her well. She is particularly adept at setting specific moods: “I wasn’t grateful / for the sadness I wore / when nothing would fit / my tranquilized roar.” Amid the fascinating and courageous play with rhyme, a finely pointed, cleverly metered warning to all who enter these pages; there is a singular mood-artist at work. »
from subTerrain #69: Meat.