Marvyne Jenoff

Apart from the enjoyable observations they contain, what also delights me about the poems in Marvyne Jenoff’s Climbing the Rain (Silver Bow Publishing, 2021) is their deceptive easiness. Because the language appears so simple, even matter of fact, and moves on its own subtle rhythms, its refreshing twists are all the more surprising and fun. Words are not only purveyors of meaning, but often feel like building blocks with an inherent solidity that can be piled up, knocked over, or spun round.

For example, “Square Lullaby, Yonge and Eglinton” opens with a description of “a little square garden in a square of bricks” where “a haze of daisies” and other flowers “bloom full in their semi-season.” Bouncing off “semi-season”, the next stanza sails straight into “Chocolate has no season” and then “savouring of the little squares one by one / or two by two into the evening.” In turn, “square” and “evening” bounce into the next stanza about sunset on the “Large square roof”. And on, the word volleying continues, until all come together in the final stanza: “Little square garden, / square-tiled path over the gravel, / square window in the door, / last square of chocolate, / squarish room, / squarish bed, / and so to sleep.” Word upon word, associations accumulate into the tidy, whimsical conclusion.

In “Ever”, word play becomes the very core of the poem: “Whether lover / whether other / whether either / neither knows”. Indeed, in “Words Dream”, the fascination with language itself is stated explicitly, as if a basis for Jenoff’s aesthetic: “Words dream of puzzles / where they flit / not fit / among the squares // They dream of leaping / and the little squares / fade and sleep / and dream of colour”. How marvellous to think of words themselves having a spirit and life of their own. Certainly, this is how it can feel when a poem is created in one of those treasured bubblings of inspiration as one word spontaneously releases the next and the next.

Even when poems are personal in theme, some feel like the poet is standing watching herself from the outside, as if a third person, while everyday events unfold. For example, in “The Goose and the Commuter Train”, Jenoff writes: “I guess this makes me / the girl out here in Mississauga / with the brown umbrella, / now that the girl in Toronto with the green umbrella / lent hers to you yesterday / for your journey back out to Mississauga.”

This ironic distancing is accounted for in “Water”, where she writes: “Art, like water, keeps our life oasis safe / from the imagined (dare to look closely) / desert which surrounds us / undeniable desert parched with strife.” One step further, “In the Night” advises: “Best to live alone, / keep uncertainties close to the chest / or lace them with such complicated irony / that everyone laughs before the truth kicks in.” After all, artistic creation grows from a unique vision, not a committee.

As in Shakespeare, the court jester may prove to be the wise one.