Holy Island by Lesley Jenike
Gold Wake Press, 2014; 85 pp
Reviewed by Mark Allen Jenkins
Usually when a collection of poems are considered to be about place, it means they focus on a particular region or landscape. While Lesley Jenike’s second collection Holy Island does indeed consider place in a broad sense, it also considers the representation of place.
An early poem, “Counter-Directive” considers a speaker who “found a particular house in me—/ a tinderbox by an ocean” and in a playful Plath-like manner, describes it while not describing it as “my house is a breeze on steel and breaks/ as it heals. I mean it’s a fortress/ small enough for a baby to breach/ on all fours.” This inversion comes back a few times later in the collection, representing the impact place can have on a person “The House You Make You Are” “Holy Island”).
This theme comes back in “Shaker Village” as it considers a dysfunctional family that visit a Shaker Village “when nothing else would soothe.” The simple perfection and “something in the lack of living heir/gives the place a ghostly grandeur.”
The lyrical long poem “A Book of Mirrors,” contains a series of events and observations spinning off “The lecture on ‘Cosmos and Mystery’ careened/ into evening till the dam finally, flooded/ the park in goodbyes.” The poem’s description of various places the speaker visits brings to mind Ashbery’s poem “The Instruction Manual,” with observations like “To Dirt’s/ need for richness is stitched the cypress that begs/ for summer’s airless in just two words ‘love’/ and ‘me.’ ” Ashbery’s influence on Jenike comes through on many later poems (“Self-Portrait with Self-Portrait” “A Rauschenberg Conversation”) as she plays with art sometimes writing an Ekphrastic poem and other times writing about a particular artist’s technique.
Holy Island is a mesmerizing trip through the landscapes of the Jenike’s vivid imagination.