A Spring Moth, A Young Girl Dancing, A Burning Cigarette: Reading Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Book reviews often reveal a great deal of information about the reader as well as the reading. Case in point: over the past few weeks I began devouring many volumes of poetry, both contemporary and historical writers. There exists a comfort for reading poetry, due to the abstracted notion of sequence of verses. One can read three poems from any specific source, then pause, and then shift to another selection, pause, then read a third grouping and so forth, a voracious circle of reading without producing an expectation or habitual formula from one particular author. This was the scene which unfolded across my reading desk recently while waiting for resolution for my sick laptop, resulting in a process of reading alternatively between four books at a time.

One book that stood out in particular was a collection of poems by Jane Rosenberg LaForge: With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and all Women. Originally I mentioned her writing as seen in a recent publication of The Meadow, a product of the Tuckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada. In the book With Apologies—, she often opts for an experimental edge, building abstract connections with the English language, which in the end take individual readers into diverse territories. The reader therefore channels his/her own epiphany moment from the verse. Each poem generates a strong meditative moment for reflection and exploration.

Usually with language poetry, a harsh distance is built between the poem and the audience. When hastily executed, such poems create a widening gulf between perception of reader and intentions of poet. Beautiful, abstracted language is welcomed, but a notion of emotive cause and effect lessens the poet’s experience for the audience. In LaForge’s case however, by selecting references both from history and pop-culture, a sense of grounding is achieved for the reader, allowing a conversational connection to be made. Such titles of her work reflect this notion of a casual interchange: “Rock Star Watching,” “Putin,” “With Apologies to Dylan Thomas,” and “With Apologies to Mick Jagger,” suggesting a worldly perspective of the here and now, further allowing in the end for the poems to extend into their strangely wonderful metaphors and hyperbole.

One strong example is the poem “Verbs,” which makes use of different associations in the four, numbered stanzas: Biblical, Natural, Spiritual/Psychological, Physical. Each section utilizes a quick reference to the outside world as a drop of a stone into a large pond. The words ripple across the surface.
Section 1 reads:
I have no knowledge of Hart Crane,
and his flight over water, nor of the
Snake River and the baby that comes
back as God’s hostile bequest. I was
not born to symmetry or the movies
or a benighted soul of breath and yet
the want of desire, the patterns and the
consonants, speak of something so much
The paradox of the opening line is a gentle joke. LaForge utilizes the facts of the death of Crane: his drowning while traveling across the Gulf of Mexico, under the heavy influence of alcohol; she twists him into a metaphor of poetic-drama, shifting his form into a flight of fancy, an ascent and escape, rather than descent and repression. She knows enough of the situation to turn it to her advantage as allusion and transition to the next topic: the northwest coast and the Snake River, which in turn subtly references the archetype of Snake and God with a casual nod and a drop of loaded words: “bequest,” “born,” “soul,” and “desire” — all of which trigger responses to the biblical story in Genesis.

Furthermore, her strategies of odd enjambments and interesting word-choice encourage private associations to be uncovered by the reader. In “Metaphor/Moth” the extended metaphor bridging from a pale-white insect into the image of the poet, echoes the intentions of Virginia Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth.” As Woolf makes personal connections between a dying insect and herself, then spirals out to include all humanity, LaForge begins her work with the collective pronoun “we”—
We remember not with our anatomy,
but with our impulses: A precious
curtsy, the last cigarette, the grind
of ashes into wine and sand.
As a result, LaForge works in reverse, moving from the collective to an individual stance, to coded autobiography. She continues:
And if I was adventurous; if I was young
as only a spring white moth is, I’d set
a pretty little circle around what beats
like a harlot’s desire as it diminishes,
raw but unembarrassed […]
She ties close a collage of images with commonalities: a spring moth, a young girl dancing, a burning cigarette, the almost too-bitter voice of an adult reminiscing. One finds a strong self-contempt within this particular work, a harsh-voiced persona struggling to find solace in her life, but instead discovers ash, sacrifices, restrictions. The extension of the metaphor: cigarette-moth-self — this strategy works because it emulates the universal self-doubt in everyone.

In the end, LaForge confirms the use of abstraction to enhance the reader’s moods. The point of abstracted-decoration becomes more paramount in these verses, rather than typical story-telling formula which burdens some contemporary poets today. Each stanza within the poems stresses new imagery, new sensations which build up to a larger surreal connection of ideas. One can be left with questions after each reading— but it is important to realize a lack of resolution opens up further conversations after all. Jane Rosenberg LaForge produces a series of personal analysis which in turn causes readers to speculate in closer detail their lives and their intimate surroundings.


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