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Pomegranate Wine, Poems by Arlene Swift Jones

Arlene Swift Jones’ Pomegranate Wine is an expansive walk through history, both spiritual and material, as envisioned through the eyes of women. Jones’ piercing lines strike to the heart of experience and feeling.

Sample Poems by Arlene Swift Jones

Pomegranate Wine is a uniquely firm book of splendid poems, written with a Yeatsian eye. Jones obsessively looks (neither glances nor gazes)—for exactly the right amount of time—into deep interiors of the body, art, and the past. ‘I look for me everywhere,’ she writes, and what she confronts (actually much more than herself), she describes without flinching, in a form of poetic phrasing that steadily and confidently rises and falls. My favorite poems include ‘Intensive Care,’ ‘Red Cabbage,’ ‘The Tomato,’ ‘Black Barley,’ yet the small masterpiece of the book is ‘Silences,’ dedicated to Tillie Olsen and illuminating the writing silences of all of us, particularly women. Pomegranate Wine is achingly true, a triumph of hard-won poetic skill and resolve.”—Dick Allen

“These new poems by Arlene Swift Jones are terrifying in their sense of desecration, pain and grief. And yet Pomegranate Wine is instilled with the glory of Paradise, albeit lost, and has at its heart a still small voice of hope prevailing on the far side of endurance. These poems bear anguished witness to the violated body of a peasant girl undone by a priest and a body-snatching anatomist. The girl’s cry is the cry of a violated world: ‘Oh, St. Anthony, make my body whole,/put it back into my grave, my little nest/of eggs, the swimming sperm like kisses/to my dark mouth.’ Our eyes must follow Erasmus unraveled by the wheel of the Inquisition, his intestines wrapping ‘like rope on the spool.’ The poet too, like her latter-day brothers and sisters in pain, has been undone, her body parts snatched, incinerated, replaced by steel and plastic. Worse, the grief of the body is matched by the grief of the spirit faced by the massacre of the innocence which once was the world’s. And yet how gorgeously is Paradise Lost portrayed in these poems! There is always the Iowa of the poet’s youth, with its Brown Swiss ‘colored like cream, thickening with calf, linger[ing] over summer’s clover’: their ‘great shadowed nostrils swirl air/into a cavernous dark, where love was said to be, if anywhere.’ If the poet and her comrades in Intensive Care are unbearably bionic, they are nevertheless ‘rooms of hope standing/like ninepins.’ They may be split or struck down at any moment, but still… As Jones says of Sol, who operates the Body Brace Shop, ‘Sol makes me stand.’ The God of such a world is terrible, ‘moving fast, mysterious…/unbearable: Leviathan,’ but still He is and leaves ‘his burning path/in the darkest depths of me.’ Even if ‘the birds that sang of paradise now [are] flown, or fallen,’ there is on a fountain of Rome ‘a boy or little man/somehow misshapen, and from his askew mouth’ a music, a song, as if some ‘fallen creature might say I am.’ Pomegranate Wine ends with images of faith and hope persisting despite all the terrors that have gone before.”—Rennie McQuilkin

“Outdoing even Ezekiel’s lively bones, Arlene Swift Jones makes us intensely aware of how the skeleton moves the living, as she depicts, without a shred of self-pity, how the arrow of time, its ‘blue intent of steel,’ turns even Leviathan to the jawbone of the whale—mortality’s white triumphal arch. As her sinewy lines reconnect to the past with an unabated energy, remembrance becomes rich, sensual presence—a lyric distillation, aged to perception, of a world of seasoned experience, art, and natural beauty.”—Eleanor Wilner

ISBN 1933456116, 92 pages, $17.00

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