Quill and Quire

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Careful

by Jacqueline Turner

Careful, Jacqueline Turner’s second poetry collection, is partitioned into nine sections, most of which feature short-line, lower-case poems that form lexical stalactites creeping down the left-hand margin of the page. As random words percolate, the primary stylistic decision is where to cut the line. Luckily two of the book’s sections, “Careful” and “Heart,” contain more structurally expansive, emotionally precise pieces.

Perhaps the lower-case poems have personal significance for Turner, but the average reader will find it hard to discern from them anything beyond a general attitude or tone (which should not be confused with emotion). Here’s an example from a poem called “Insipid”: “move me here/with heart to/the left i sense/your rain falling/endlessly around/grey praying if/you did that.” The laconic structure per se is not problematic; the trouble here is that neither concrete narrative nor emotional truth nor abstract design animate the lines.

Occasionally Turner hits upon an ordering of words that doesn’t seem arbitrary, achieving a kind of grace: “denial’s wide fluoride: it’s in the water still.” But just as often the poems indulge in lines like “take my breath away” and “never ever/don’t ever/never wanna/hear ever/ever ever/don’t never/that ever ever.” At one point, Turner makes the distinctly careless decision of inserting her own words into key phrases from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” resulting in a mudslide of unfortunate lines: “Let us go then between the can’t sleep slide fix my worry you/and i when the evening is spread out salacious fever ahhh/ against the sky.” These fragments I have shored against my ruin, indeed.

When the poems’ lines lengthen – combining a greater breadth of content with variety of structure – Turner’s talent slides into better focus, and the emotional gravity of her poetic voice becomes audible. These poems are affecting: “aloof among the wide/expanse of prairie possibilities/your balcony of desire never waved to the passersby.” I hope she will explore this quadrant of her voice, and fill her third book with the result.