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Barbara Jordan



Emissaries come from the pond— a red-winged

blackbird and a dog.  Nothing else

yet.  The silence is magnetic.


Several days, at dusk,

I’ve hoped to see a moose.  I’m told they appear

where the pine forest stands

half-submerged.  Its shadows are turning

articulate, claiming whole regions.


These are the minutes of gauze.  Sky and water meet

and spores; follicles open midair.


On the far shore, a rack of black branches

becomes the vortex of expectancy— if it should lift,

from lapping, it’s animal head out of darkness

with eyes gleaming.


I resume my petty squabbles with fate,

its patient and subversive tongue; configurations

of loneliness; stars

rattling in a box.


-from Channel

BIO: The poet Barbara Jordan, whose first book, Channel, was the winner of the 1989 Barnard New Women Poets Prize, has won acclaim for her ability to interweave the strands of religion, nature, language, and art in work which shimmers with stylistic elegance. Her second book, Trace Elements, explores residues of meaning and mystery--of history, belief systems, old categories of classification--from a place of abandonment or skepticism. What can we know? How do we order knowledge? What are twentieth-century versions of the Fall? These are some of the questions this new collection addresses, in richly textured poems whose form blend freedom and restraint, and whose language has, in the words of Robert Pinsky, "the impact of saturated colors: consonants and vowels in lush cadences, luxuriance of image and phrase."

From Library Journal

"Ammonites," the long, satisfying poem that concludes Jordan's second collection, traces the relationship between memorabilia and art, between relics of life and life itself. An ammonite is a type of coiled fossil, recalling, for this poet, Goethe's house, near which she bought one from a woman who was selling them on the street, and also recalling a chapel in which Latin prayers are lettered in human bone. And if the fossil's name also brings to mind the name of well-known poet A.R. Ammons, who like Jordan resides in upstate New York and is drawn into natural forms as territory for the mind's wanderings, perhaps it is no accident: "Elemental/mixtures of form: the narcissi, the snow,/ my fingers with their unprecedented whorls, variations/ in the matter." Although Jordan's artistic strategy is to humanize the world by weaving a web of connections, she is not deceived into a grandiose vision: "there are no symbols in the world, only things/ we tend." And while there are no fireworks in these quiet, mindful poems, there is much that is human and deeply considered. Jordan's first book, Channel (Beacon, 1990), was a winner of the "Barnard New Poets" series. Recommended for most poetry collections? Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. 

From Kirkus Reviews


A previous winner of the Barnard Prize, Jordan offers a second volume (after Channel, 1990) that’s serious and somber and relies on an intellectually compelling dialectic of the abstract and the natural. Jordan’s unsettling metaphysics leads to abrupt line shifts and edgy phrases: Her poems begin with debris, the trace elements of the title, and ends wondering what the difference is between trash and keepsake. The known, referential world is simply a hall of exits (Dinosaur Calendar); and Roman ruins, the shells in Goethe’s house, animal remains all yield no meaning, just an indifference of things. Many of the weary poems here record the world after the Fall, the loss of faith and certainty; and imagine a prelapsarian idyll before knowledge and perspective differentiated objects with names (Anchorites). Poems such as The Cult of Solitude and Spectrum announce Jordan's loneliness and escape from the world, her admiration for a contemplative life in which silence widens into exile. Keeping vigil with discontent, Jordan pierces the veil of debris (O) in poems that are always smart, and sometimes prophetic. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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