Thursday, April 13, 2017

"The world is so necessary": a review of The Jubilee by John Blase



 The Jubilee by John Blase

For about a year now I've enjoyed reading the poems and letters John Blase posts on his website the beautiful due -- so the recent publication of his book of poetry, The Jubilee, was very welcome to me. The title alludes to the Year of Jubilee, depicted in the Old Testament as a sacred time of freedom and celebration observed every fifty years. In his own fiftieth year, Blase has released this volume of fifty poems -- and that itself is cause for celebration as far as I'm concerned. After I purchased and read the book, I realized I had never reviewed a book of poetry on this blog before. The Jubilee (as well as the fact that April is National Poetry Month) is a good reason to change that.

I try to read a fair amount of poetry as well as writing some myself; and while I don't consider myself an expert, I do know that for me, the best poems are a combination of accessible and profound. I don't want to be scratching my head over some esoteric reference that, if missed, renders a poem incomprehensible -- but I also like a poem to have layers that make me want to reread and savour it. Blase's poems strike that ideal balance. Here are five lines from the short poem "What Such a Claim Might At Last Entail" -- lines that have no obscure allusions yet could keep someone reading for a long time to plumb their depths:

Christ lived as a man might live only near the end
of his life, in a way that militates against putting
off what one has to do. In his awful incongruity
he was love perishing, pure gentleness in memory
and melody, Christmas in the wilderness.

Blase's poems cover themes like the life of Jesus; being a son, father, and husband; and nature and beauty. Of his work, he has said, "The Incarnation compels me to make my art embarrassingly vernacular." (Full disclosure: he said this in a Tweet. Don't you want to read the poems of someone who writes Tweets like that?) It is as if he is both justifying and apologizing for the down-to-earthness of his poetry. 

But it is this "embarrassing vernacular" that I appreciate most. Blase's writing works against the notion (holy-sounding though it may be) that, particularly as we move into mid- and later life, we should spurn the things of earth and strive for a heavenly-minded state of perfection. He writes in "Things Below,"

It's a hard business being human.
It's much easier to hover above your days as some
wispy holier-than-the-rest-of-us....
Leave cleverness to the angels. Set your mind on
things below.

Over and over his poems reveal his choice, as an artist, to convey truth through the simple, vivid details of "things below."

Things like the hayloft of a red barn:

For years I've stacked my secrets
there in the loft like hay, happy now
to pitch them down to rupture and spill
so you can better understand 
the choir of flesh I am.
                                         - from "Crossing"

Or a cup of instant coffee:

My father would yield each time,
making allowances for my
far countrying due to his great love.
I would leave and he would
find again his Folger's, like water
returning to a low spot.
                                    - from "My Father's Coffee" 
                                      (my favourite of the whole collection)

Or a tree:

The eyes of the aspen are watching to see
if before you cross over to that next place
you'll take your simple life and grind it up
in your imagination so as to build exquisite
arbors of memory your children and children's
children can stand beneath and find shade.
                                        - from "The Calling in What Remains of Your Life"

What an amazing phrase: "Take your simple life and grind it up in your imagination." 

I'm so glad Blase has answered the call to do just that.

If you love poetry, this book is for you.

If you think you might like poetry but you're not sure where to start, this book is for you.

And if the very word "poetry" evokes anxious memories of uncomfortable high school English classes, this book is for you, too. You don't have to memorize these poems, dissect them, or write essays about them -- just listen to them. As Blase says in "Forgive Us":

Teach us to fall against the earth. Train us to
listen for the world's chamber music.
Warn us the world is so necessary.


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John Blase's The Jubilee is available at amazon.com and amazon.ca.

To find out more about John Blase and his writing, go to his website, the beautiful due.


2 comments:

  1. Wow! I love these poems. Reading some to my husband now. Thanks for introducing me to John Blase.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Betsy! Many of these poems are available on his website but really it is SO worth buying the book.

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