Forms of Intercession by Jayne Pupek
March 5, 2008
Mayapple Press, 2008Review by LouAnn Shepard Muhm
Paper Chariots of the Profane
In Jayne Pupek’s 2008 collection of poems, Forms of Intercession (Mayapple Press), “the eternal optimist must be on strike.” These poems go to dark places, where all the fruit is rotting, all the children dead or abused, and all the lovers unfaithful. In the poem “Stories,” Pupek says “There are stories I don’t want to live,/ don’t want to tell, don’t want to write down.” And yet write them down she does, with a fierce clarity that makes it difficult for the reader not to turn away. It is the very excellence of the writing that makes this collection hard to read; if the images were less clear, less sharply drawn, we could go on more easily, not faced with such crystalline photos of ruin. When Pupek describes a therapy session in which inkblots turn into bats, they are “bleeding…/ Blue grey veins…pipettes snapped in half” and end up “Overhead, blind angels [who] flutter shit, and cry.” The senses are engaged, the revulsion complete. Describing the aftermath of a mother’s beheading of her child, Pupek makes us see “the bagged head…[the] small mouth open/ a cavern of milkteeth and flies.”
Imagery of the ravaged body abounds in these poems. Breasts “consist mostly of fat,/but fail to keep [the speaker] warm or well-fed,” or serve as simile for a fallen cake “flat as a breast/deflated with age” and are then removed, with “the smell of scorched meat,/ a black hole in the bandage.” In “Gangrene,” a stubbed toe reminds the speaker of “the stench in his boots;/red streaks growing dark,/wide; sap gathering green /in the deep purple crevice/where his missing toe belonged.” An aborted fetus is “a mass of cells/ splitting, replicating, taking root/ like a parasitic jellyfish.” Mouths are equated with wounds, stomachs are filled with bile, skin serves to cover “watermarks [that] never wash clean.”
The title of the book begs the question: Where is the intercession? Where is the relief for a poet who “…notice[s] things you do not see: a teller’s smirk,/skipped stitches, and ceiling cracks reaching past roof-line”? The speaker in the title poem says “sometimes you must intercede on your own behalf.” Perhaps the poems themselves are the intercessions. Perhaps she, like the writer she imagines in “Contributor’s Notes”, believes in the salvation of “images ignit[ing] in slivered light/…if only [s]he can jot down this color, thin/ and uncorrupted.”
Forms of Intercession is a journey beyond the veil into the gritty, gothic world of suffering. Readers who can withstand its clear-eyed, unapologetic view of pain and its causes will be rewarded with sharp imagery and keen analysis of the dark hidden worlds inside us.
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