Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Uncoupling by Jac Jenkins

Ice clasps its thorny cloak with filigreed
brittle lace against my breast
bone. The pin sticks my skin when I inhale.
I stay close to his mouth;
his heat breathes an early thaw
as Winter opens its teeth on my throat.

Spring stitches my scabs to scars, my scars
to silver. I am bare beneath bridal lace
and veil. When I inhale, his hands
clasp me like whalebone; I stay close
to the looking glass so I can see
his beaten knuckles.

Summer loosens my stays. I am
bare and bridled on the burning ground.
My tongue is desert when I inhale. He
is dry bone in the sand, stacked
like pyred sticks. I stay close to his clacking
hands. A loop of gold spins on his ring finger.

Autumn leaves my flesh for the carrion-
eaters. He is dry sand scouring my bones.
I am inhaled by the wind, breathed
out over water, looping and spinning,
close to the opening throat
of the ocean.

Dedicated to Christine de Pizan,
Europe's first feminist

Posted with permission from Jac Jenkins. First published 2013 in Takahē.
TP editor this week: Michelle Elvy

I have known the poet Jac Jenkins since I moved to Northland back in 2009. We've been in poetry groups together and shared flash fiction. Last year we even put our heads together when we judged the 2013 Northland Flash Fiction Competition, hosted by Whangarei Libraries. As a writer of both flash and poetry, Jac knows how to create impact with economy. I admire that most about her writing: nothing ever drags; her poetry catches you from the opening line and takes you by surprise.

And Jac has enjoyed increasing recognition for both poetry and prose in the last couple years, most recently winning the 2013 Takahē Poetry Competition with the poem I posted today. Even better than me writing about Jac's winning poem, 'Uncoupling', I leave it to judge Joanna Preston, who wrote:

 The winning poem, “Uncoupling” by Jac Jenkins, is one I tried to resist, but couldn’t. I was wary of how many of my own personal preferences it seemed to tick – startlingly good images? Check. Vaguely gothic/medieval/fantastical feel to it? Check. As full of song as a Welsh football stadium? Check. (Wish like heck I’d written it myself? Check.) Even now I can’t tell you what it’s about, except by quoting it back verbatim – to paraphrase Wallace Stevens, it ‘resists the intelligence almost successfully’. But I could pull almost any line at random and offer it as an example of lovely workmanship. The way words and images return and modulate – from breast bone to whalebone to dry bones to my bones, from brittle lace to bridal lace to bare and bridled. Intoxicating sounds, and repeated phrases that shift their meaning as they flicker through the poem. A worthy winner, and a poem that still makes me catch my breath. I am envious and in awe. 
You can read all of Joanna Preston's comments in the full 2013 Takahē Poetry Competition Judge's Report here.


Jac Jenkins is a poet and flash fiction writer from rural Whangarei. She works as a librarian but is looking forward to a three-month writing sabbatical in Australia late in 2014, hopefully in a location that challenges her with new experiences and allows her doctor-partner, Alistair, to practise medicine in a different context. Jac’s writing has found its way into the Northern Advocate, Flash Frontier and Take Flight, and she has recently celebrated winning the 2013 Takahē Poetry Competition and also enjoyed success in the Northwrite Collaboration Competition with Alistair. She was also awarded a NZ Society of Authors poetry mentorship in 2012, during which she worked closely with poet Sue Wootton. 


Michelle Elvy lives and works as an editor and manuscript assessor based in the Bay of Islands but is travelling this year in Indonesia. She edits at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook. Her poetry and prose can be found in print and online, most recently or forthcoming in Poets & Artists, Takahē2014: A Year in Stories (Pure Slush) and Eastbourne: An Anthology (Makaro Press). A member of the NZ Association of Manuscript Assessors, Michelle can be found at michelleelvy.com, and her Tuesday Poem posts can be found at her blog, Glow Worm

* When you've got to grips with Uncoupling, please check out the other Tuesday Poets in the blog sidebar. Riches there. 


Penelope said...

Such a strong poem.

I'm not so sure about 'resisting the intelligence...'. Surely that ambiguity calls on a type of intelligence that can tolerate a lack of one over-arching meaning? Most certainly the poem escapes easy interpretation, if that is what that phrase means.

Thank you Michelle, and Jac.

Helen McKinlay said...

Seems to be to be about switching lovers and getting some interesting satisfaction out of each one ...no sentimentality towards the seasons here or perhaps the seasons are metaphors for the lovers. I like it that Joanna said she didn't know what it's about. That's an honest comment from a judge. I think it might spoil it for me to know though I have to assume it's got something to do with feminism!
Lots to hold onto in this poem. And yes wonderful imagery. Thank you both.