Rings by Jasmine Dreame Wagner
Kelsey Street Pres, 2014
Reviewer: Jonita Davis
Have you ever seen one of those micro-photography puzzles? The ones that zoom in to the very fibers that make up an object? Like the ruts and hills that look like a desert-scape that ended up being the surface of a wooden plank. One of the more confusing images were of magical kaleidoscope of filmy patterns that make up the landscape of a flower petal.
The poems found in Rings, by Jasmine Dreame Wagner, work the same “magic” on the readers of the volume. Each stanza is its own rhythmic description of a microcosm of the larger subject, which is further described by the poem as a whole. Just like a camera zooms in super close to capture the microscopic details of the wooden plank, each word and sentence in the stanza delves into a tiny piece of the subject. These pieces analyze, define, and reveal just a particle that goes into place to build the picture that Wagner is trying to capture in verse. The last lines of each stanza breaks down even further to segue into the next stanza, the next particle of the whole picture.
Here’s an example from the poem “Key of C: No Black Keys”
…and we can’t “like” it
the way we like a grove of lilacs
the way we like the way our gold tip pen scrawls our tag on downtown bank
the way we like to lick our lollipops until our tongues turn green (lines 34-37)
This stanza is the fourth “shift” or change in the rhythm and style of the poem. It begins with the idea of liking left over from the previous stanza, which explored the concept of losing. The idea of liking is explored in depth, with a descriptive set of literary devices that bring the idea to life for the reader. Once liking is covered to a satisfactory degree, the poem moves on to the idea of memory in the next stanza. They combine with other microscopic ideas to form a life of a person, maybe you or me. Wagner’s ideas form a kaleidoscope of ideas that make up the modern human.
The words, sentences, stanzas, and poems in Rings work together to weave a larger picture that the reader must work very hard to see. Very. Hard.
The poem “Key of C: No Black Keys” spans nine pages in the book, with several more stanza changes that shift with the mention of each new idea. It is a bit of a tough read, and can be a challenge to the reader’s understanding, as the changes cause a start/stop pattern that many readers may find disruptive. Putting the poems together to find the larger whole may also prove a challenge.
The lover of the poetic challenge or those looking for poetry that pushes the boundaries of genre will love the work presented by Jasmine Dreame Wagner in Rings. For others, the work may be a bit more problematic than expected.