Author Tags: Poetry
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Jen Currin has also lived in Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Colorado. She attended Emerson College, Bard College and Arizona State University. She has taught creative writing in Vancouver for Langara College and the Vancouver Film School, and online for the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. She followed her first book of poems, The Sleep of Four Cities (Anvil, 2005) which uses the city as a metaphor for the complexity of self, with more mystifying images and perplexing narration in Hagiography (Coach House, 2008) and The Inquisition Years (Coach House, 2010). Her work is both dazzling and obtuse. A poem called 'The Sexual' in The Inquisition Years ends: “It starts with smashing perfumes bottles on the floor, then blowing on microphones. No one wants to talk about the erotica of the absurd—but what sort of room spills wine like this? You took classes on Shakespeare & dated volunteers. She had been lying, & would continue to.” As the Talking Heads put it, stop making sense.
The Sleep of Four Cities (Anvil, 2005)
Hagiography (Coach House, 2008) $16.95 978-1-55245-197-7
The Inquisition Years (Coach House, 2010) $16.95 978-1-55245-230-1
School (Coach House 2014) $17.95 9781552452899
[BCBW 2010] "Poetry"
The Sleep of Four Cities by Jen Currin (Anvil Press $15)
Sometimes a traveler, exploring a foreign city, experiences a disorientation that no map or guide can shake. The choice then is to assiduously pursue an understanding of the layout and ambience of the place or to abandon attempts at orienting oneself and just keep walking and noticing, without a route, just taking it all in. Reading Jen Currin’s poems, one is faced with a similar choice: the first leads to drudgery and dead-ends. The second, the only viable option, is to keep reading, abandoning any expectation of linear sense.
In The Sleep of Four Cities, you can let Currin’s language take you down alleys, over bridges and through gates, without a destination, and you are overtaken by surprise and variety. You may not be able to say where the poems took you but you were certainly taken. I traded my spirit for a handful of nails. / Bliss pinched my elbows. / The stars climbed back upon the roof/ and the sky said, “hurt me.”
Currin’s poems have the accessibility of dreams which require relinquishing paraphrase. In this debut collection there isn’t a single predictable line or image. One can detect certain obsessions: Clouds / moon / light / wind / water and fish / ponds / rivers / wells. There is a stubborn disconnect between the titles and the individual poems and no congruity between poems within each of the four sections. If connection is to be located in this elusive writing it has to be personally constellated by the reader. That’s true for all art but in these kinds of poems it’s imperative and also the reason why many readers say they don’t “get” contemporary poetry. The plethora of striking images, many surreal, is anchored somewhat by Currin’s use of conventional punctuation and format. After all that dissonance, a puzzled reader is grateful to come upon a recognizable landmark. Some poems, different ones for different readers, will remain behind locked gates. Some will give up secrets reluctantly while others will open wide vistas in memory and desire. Call these inaccessible or, alternately, toss out the nostalgia for interpretive closure and just go for the adventure. “Yesterday on the pier I saw a ship with five sails. I saw another with none. I turned back to my book. when I looked up, the sail-less ship had blossomed—two handsome triangles fluttered, white as nursery bed sheets. And as I sat there, the wind read the book rapidly, with no regard for rhyme.” 1-895636-70-1
--review by Hannah Main-Van der Kamp
[BCBW 2006] "Poetry"