Live from the Homesick Jamboree
Adrian Blevins (English and creative writing)
Wesleyan University Press (2009)
With this follow-up to her award-winning debut collection, The Brass Girl Brouhaha, Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Adrian Blevins has established herself as an expert at her craft. An honest, fearless poet, her breathless narrations transfer their need to be told to the audience’s need to hear them.
The poems in Live from the Homesick Jamboree narrate the life of a Southern girl through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood and motherhood. Forthrightly and without sentimentality, the speaker of these poems confronts the frequently painful events of that journey as they intertwine with the raucous joy of life. Blevins is a storyteller who has honed a fine skill with music and diction. “…we lock our mouths / to mourn our losses from the insides of our jackets and black wool caps / with just our eyes in our faces and the lungs in our chests / in the flabbergasted shut of sucking and sucking and sucking it in” (from “First Winter in Maine”). She is not a soft and cuddly poet—she tells it frankly and often with a sharp tongue. The reader’s reward is a sharpness of experience, a role as confidant to Blevins’s speaker. “From the beginning it was our innocence, it was our impertinence, it was a bent outhouse / in the dead dead double-dead clot of twisted winter” (from “Why the Marriage Failed”).
Grounded in place, the poems in this book are not ethereal constructions that exist only in poem land. When her words and her poems mean more than one thing it suggests the poet’s wisdom that life should not, cannot, be taken at face value, and her belief that a well-shaped poem must sound that alarm.
A masterful use of sentence structure shapes Blevins’s linguistic acrobatics. Long sentences drive many of these poems, twisting and turning and building and building upon themselves until the final period—which is more yield sign than stop, as momentum carries the poem out again over the white space to linger there. Her colloquial ease with the sentence is in part what connects us so strongly to these poems—why we get them, how they so naturally belong to us, too.
Matt O'Donnell is editor of From the Fishouse, an online audio archive of emerging poets.