Reviews, Vol. 6.2, June 2012
Saddle stitched, 14 pp., $20
Review by Cynthia Reeser
However cliché it may sound, Jill Osier is a painter of words. Bedful of Nebraskas is her recent chapbook, released from Sunnyoutside with a handsome silk-screened cover (the cover is navy blue with the silhouette of tall wheat looming at the edges, implying the receding of the light and a Midwestern dusk). Her imagery dances, having come to life through her words. Throughout are themes like light and the way it interacts with us, with the world. With the objects we hold dear.
Poems like “Wyoming” and “The Light Winter Leaves” are a painter’s dream, a visual wonderland of light. Lines like the following from “Wyoming” help us to understand that light is a medium through which the world is viewed, understood.
I recognized light, and you recognized shadow, and you knew shadows were never longer. You knew winter, and I thought of snow, and you thought of snow coming down sideways. And you knew stories, and I knew your voice.
Light comes to stand for perspective, understanding. The way we interpret the world and our points of view. In that sense, light is itself a perspective.
By extension, “You Can’t Buy Shoes in a Painting” reveals perspective from several different angles: that of the viewer (of the painting implied in the title), that of the subject(s) in the poem, and finally that of the reader (of this book, of the poem). To have one’s work published is to create a reader/audience for the work and by extension a reader/author dynamic. This trope exists in conceptual parallel with works of visual art, which engender the same viewer/audience for a work or body of work, and the invisible dynamic between artist and viewer. Structure aside, our concrete evidence of perspective comes in the lines,
Pigeons sit high on a mill’s peaked roof,
spaced even as beads. They can stand that
close to each other, but looking at them
you wouldn’t know it. Would you.
We are an anonymous audience reading a poem about a painting and in the painting is the author projecting a perspective from the painting itself, from within the poem: that of the birds, who perch high above their audience, looking down on any passersby (we assume through the reader-as-viewer lens).
In “Yesterday the Girl with the Sad Half-Moon Mouth Said the North Pole Could Be Anywhere,” we come to a new understanding of what the author might be trying to do with these ideas of perspective, of light and dark. After having read the collection and then re-reading this poem, a new understanding strikes with the lines,
There’s something I figured out about the dark. Because
when she said the North Pole
could be anywhere, I somehow understood that.
Concluding the poem is an allusion to “dark water” and new shakes on perspective:
Never is most of the sound I hear now, all around the
pieces of your voice, which I try
to gather about me and smooth again like a skirt. A sky to
memorize. Never is such
dark water, and the words little boats, the children in
them scooping out the water
with their buckets.
If light represents perspective, then its absence (“dark water”) could represent waning perspective or its utter lack. In terms of point of view or identity, there is a “you” in the poem, used in a general sense, the general “you.” Could this “you” be the reader?
I have only one qualm, and it is minor. While it is lovely, poems like “One More Thing” seem to hover around its focus rather than directly harnessing it, dancing around a locus just out of reach. We are given clues (“I’m not afraid?”) in “One More Thing” that effectively probe the power of suggestion, but it remains just that: suggestion.
Ultimately, Jill Osier has in Bedful of Nebraskas a fine oeuvre: thought-provoking, lovely, and deep. Ultimately, what are we seeking to do in examining point of view, perspective, but to identify the human condition? If we are not asking who we are, who you all are, and what it all means, then we stumble in blindness; we tread dark water.