by Jan Epton Seale
In her latest book of poetry Jan Epton Seale takes her reader on a spiritual journey, putting aside assumptions and questioning tradition while at the same time celebrating the idea of the sacred.
Nape is organized into five sections. The first part, Gatherings, introduces us to such diverse characters as the Grandmother of the World, busy rearranging the trails of birds across the sky, and Tamara Lynn Hassock who hiccuped through her baptism. We visit the wax churches of Los Aztecas and stand, mesmerized by the squash dancers at the Feast Day of Jemez. The search for meaning within and beyond ritual was made clear in this passage:
That night in my bed in Albuquerque,
I wish the sunburn were pigment.
I wonder how to belong,
how to read the god that drums in my heart.
In the second section, Marvels, one poem stands out in my heart. In it, a son helps his mother seek out a cluster of stars in the night sky, and we see the beauty in both the wonder of the stars and the relationship between mother and son.
Afraid to blink, I whisper, "Yes, I see them.
Yes." The astronomer's hand tightens on my arm.
"The Trapezium Cluster, at fifteen-hundred light years."
He laughs. "I give them to you because you see them."
"I take them," I say, and feel him near.
Harmonies, the third section, is unique in that most of the poems share a title with an old hymn. I was not familiar with the hymns themselves, but in each poem Seale brings forth an aspect from the title—say, sheep—and shows it to us from a different perspective than was probably intended by the hymn. In "When Morning Gilds the Skies," for example, she gifts us with life in a nutshell, as she writes,
It is we who must rise
to the occasion of day.
Our ascent will be steep,
roller-coasting at dawn
like teens laughing,
fresh for the ride.
At noon we'll know mere
seconds of poised gravity,
then plunge, white-knuckled,
screaming the tinnitus of soul
into the safety of sunset.
My favorite poem from the section entitled Volitions is an echo of the mother and son relationship we glimpsed earlier. In it, the son is flying home from Australia, where he is a day ahead of his mother: "I will bring Tuesday to you, Mom."
The last section, Futures, deals largely with the unknown. A baby in an ultrasound sassily moons its parents, refusing to reveal its sex to the hopeful parents. In "Pre-Need," the writer is choosing her casket. Discussing the inner fabric, she writes,
Crepe is okay, or satin.
Last choice would be velvet
because I'm prone to hot flashes.
This stanza demonstrates one of my favorite aspects of Nape, which is the frequent humor. Seale's writing is direct, personal, rich and evocative. This is a book that I will go back to again and again, reaching some new understanding and seeing something new with each reading.
Jan Epton Seale, the 2012 Texas Poet Laureate, is a native Texan who currently resides in McAllen. She is the award winning author of seven volumes of poetry, two books of short fiction, three books of nonfiction, and nine children's books. Visit her website.
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