Tuesday, 21 December 2010

UEA Writers #4 - Jenna Butler

The fourth of our UEA writers is the excellent Jenna Butler. Her debut collection, Aphelion, from which 'Kerouac' is taken, was one of my favourite releases of 2010, and my review of it is here on Eyewear (as you can probably guess, I highly recommend you pick up a copy). 'Farmhouse: Castor, Alberta' is taken from The Seldom Seen Road. Her final poem comes replete with notes at the end of this post. Enjoy!


his family heaved a sigh of relief
the day he hopped a train
and disappeared from their lives
     at least until the following Christmas

under the trees in the woodlot
his meditation place grew over     threaded with wild blue flax
they mowed it under in September for hay

never a postcard
although once a slip of paper
with lines from Han Shen
which his mother pretended to understand
justifying its place on the mantel

out in the Arizona night
home     a thousand acres of desert sand
shot through with shadows
the Mexicali girls
brought port
danced unafraid by the tracks

woke to his absence
and the dawn cinders of the Express

watched the slow sunlight
enter the imprint of his body
and obliterate his passing


Castor, Alberta

early sun skims
the plate rail      a kitchen
reduced to grit & shambles
       butcherblock table
       wallpaper slumped about its knees

light here reveals
only      absence

teasel in the bones of
the victory garden       thrusting
barrel staves like iron ribs

what we have come for

lilacs pressing in
these diamond panes       their blossom
stark & fragrant across the hearth
      rainwater shifting in
      the stair’s curved spine

how this land holds everything &
nothing      back


Deconstructing Carroll[*]

youth willow alembic, that burning

photograph form as witness; mnemonic gyration

alice small sickle against untethered dark; demi-disc, lunar visage

name or. calling, calling back

mirror hinges a man, shadows like smoked glass

women mathematics of desire. shame. desire

name to unface a man, just this: construct a new


history littoral boundary. sub / liminal

genius back of the mind: two rooks, barking

letters missive or lifeline

doubt (syn. fecundity.) murky armistice.

truth scumbled edges. if not, then.

self subject to fragging


speech hesitation as intrusive space

camera intermediary to need

gentleman title or caution

stone (white.) epicentre of memory

stone apropos of drowning


biography demilune or fallacy

journal crepuscular rendition, sabotage

family proponents of what truth

carroll causa sui


alice faded at eighteen

legend that brittle waif

scandal what spice or tarnish


women vapid rabble

faith as glass to a jackdaw


craft / vanishing point


*EXPLANATORY NOTE: Taken from a new manuscript entitled Nyctogram: The Lewis Carroll Poems. The entire collection takes Carroll's (Charles Dodgson's) poetry and anagrams it into new poems about Dodgson's life and the construction of the Carroll identity.

He was an exceptional cryptographer and often included codes (frquently anagrams) in his poems. I've cross-anagrammed "Jabberwocky" and "A Sea Dirge" to create "Nyctogram: Deconstructing Carroll." I love the idea that, like the Carroll persona, anagrams change the meaning of a text with each creator. Two people could anagram the same text and get two completely different things out of it. This is what happened to Dodgson in terms of the creation of his Carroll persona.

A "nyctograph" was one of Dodgson's inventions (he was a brilliant inventor and mathematician). It was a writing aid that would, through a series of slashes and dots, allow the user to write down thoughts in the dark without having to get out of bed to light a lamp. The nyctograph was lost after Dodgson's death, but here, I imagine these poems as "nyctograms," messages out of the dark about a man who was so little known and scarcely understood.

The collection will be an exact anagram; by the end of it, every letter from every one of Dodgson's poems will have been used to retell the story of Dodgson's/Carroll's life. (Yep, it's taking me a while to write.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts



Hit Counter