Saturday, November 10, 2012

Julith Jedamus's "E.T. in the Isère"



If I have been "diligent" in analyzing the poems, the effort has been due to the poems' knottiness, in both thought and language. I am a city mouse, not a country mouse, and so many of Jedamus's natural terms are new to me. I had to look up "combes" and "cols," for instance. The poems collect such terms together quite lovingly, for their images and sounds, the way a hiker rescues brown leaves or a beachcomber picks up bits of shell. Also, a British reader would probably be familiar with Belle Tout, Rievaulx Abbey and the Lucombe Oak, and so did not have to research them. I only had the advantage of having seen the Uffington White Horse, which was a marvelous and unforgettable sight. It always brings back the memory of a girl of whom I was very fond.

I am not bothered by the poems' loose meter or slant rhymes. I found myself more troubled by the occasional lack of line integrity, the way two different phrases having little to do with each other beyond plot are jammed together into a line. The poems also do not follow the structure of a sonnet, with a turn from a larger section (usually an octave) to a smaller section (usually a sestet). Lacking that internal dynamism of a sonnet, the poems feel more to me like a block of fourteen lines, capped with a sonnet's rhyme scheme.

"E.T. in the Isère" is the last poem of this opening sequence of eight sonnets. It is interesting that the sequence ends outside of England. Isère is a department in the Rhône-Alpes region in the east of France. The places names are given in French, but they are strongly reminiscent of England. For instance, terre calcaire reminds me of the limestone landscape of southern England, the landscape of the White Horse and the Dover cliffs. The poem refers to Bois Noir and Arras but the flora and fauna--beeches, cirrus, yarrow, sloe, nettle, black boars, crows--can be found in England too. The effect is that of an Englishwoman abroad, who finds in the French landscape echoes of England. If that is the intended effect, the sequence ends with the suggestion of successful transplantion of a Colorado native to southern England. The name of the addressee of the poem, E.T., may clinch the effect, for few names are more English than Edward.

This is a love poem. Love acquires a local habitation and a name, to steal Master Shakespeare's words. The landscape is harsh, flinty. The beeches are scored with "old injuries" like the carving of lovers' names, the "blaze of axe or of lightning." The speaker pays her love, Edward, a high compliment by asking him, "What figure/would you find in their scars?" and so making him the poet. She anticipates his poem-response eagerly, for "no beauty's too slight, no fear too deep to escape your notice." His chief virtue is one of attentiveness. Which makes him the perfect reader of her poem too.

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