August 15, 2011

Review by Katie Kingston

JUNIPER
by Nancy Takacs

Limberlost Press
17 Canyon Trail
Boise, Idaho 83716
ISBN 0-931659-60-4
2010, 26pp., $15.00
www.limberlostpress.com

Once again Limberlost Press has lived up to its reputation in bringing to the foreground a poet who emerges with a fresh voice, as well as a deep understanding of western landscape and the resilience of the self. Each of the poems selected for this limited edition of hand-sewn, letterpress print is a literary work of art resonating with the strength and fragility of desert that exists inside each of us.

Nancy Takacs takes us for a drive in her red jeep to explore and reconsider high desert as a metaphor for the intricacies that make us human. In her title poem, Juniper, the keen eye of the poet, always observant, reveals to us the “shaggy-body universes of dark blue-berries/ that know deep in each green center/how to pine the air, how to/ curry the tongue.” Desert light shimmies up through these poems, scattering through branches of juniper, cottonwood, even old American elm. Her attention to brilliance is evident in the “The Yellow Tree” where she takes her reader into a spectrum of visual bliss:

All along the desert horizon,
they’re cadmium,
ochre,
pumpkin,
saffron,
hardly any green now,
in stands and circles that spray
yellow-blossom.

Through imagery Takacs continues to transform not only the desert cottonwoods, but the human potential, as she continues to integrate landscape with self “You take on
their huge translucence . . .You can’t help but look at them,/carry leaves/in your pocket,/ smell vanilla wood.” Takacs’ last lines have always earmarked Takacs poetry for their resonance, and here again they stun: “You who are/not rooted enough in your life.”

With unflinching steadiness, a woman in a red jeep travels through the gullies and rock panels of landscape harvesting the beauty and resilience of willows, cottonwoods, spruce, crows, badgers, and lynx. Occasionally she diverts through memory to her cityscapes. Surprisingly this does not come as a contrast to her immersion in desert landscape, but rather as a root, a tap source from which she has learned to appreciate and internalize her environment, so that when she draws on landscape images, the resonance of desert, cityscape, and self merge seamlessly. This is evident in the opening of the poem “The Deer” where she begins, “They’ve become part of the city-desert like the magpies,/moon-lit fruit trees, hard lights, the diesels, our voices.”

Takacs allows memory to take her back to her childhood without stepping out of the rugged landscape she now wears like another of her many jackets as revealed in her poem “The Great American Jackets.” With descriptions like “your Catholic school’s dark/green wool, which forested you,” and “spring jackets your mother bought,/all pale yellow and repellent,” the poet meanders through personal history, drawing on clothing as a hinge to swing open the gate to memory and metaphor.

Through this litany of jackets, a type of shelter that protects us as well as defines us, Takacs brings us to the present: “Now harmless in canvas, denim, or down,/your jackets lean more to the mountains.” Moving through these revealing images, she arrives to the last lines that again pose landscape and self as integral to each other:

The sky would lead to that first bitter tinge. To fire, where you could
open in front of the flames in the plain spruce dark, unsnap, unzip.

Many of Takac’s poems begin by placing the reader in ordinary situations as in “Blasphemy,” where she begins the desert journey, “It’s early in Wellington, Utah./This time I bump the jeep/up onto the shoulder and walk to the fence.” As each stanza builds with imagery and appeal to the senses, she moves away from the ordinary toward the unexpected.

But I get colder and colder.
If I stepped out
of my body, I would be
split into kindling

What transpires between these direct, concrete opening lines and the resonating last lines are sheer transformation for the reader, the realization that the fragility of desert is an extension of the fragility of self.

__________

Katie Kingston has published two chapbooks, In My Dreams Neruda, which placed as a finalist in the Main Street Rag Press Chapbook Award and El Río de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio, which won the White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Award. Her poem, “History of My Body,” appeared in Rattle #31.