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Trace Elements by Barbara Jordan
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Trace Elements (1998)

by Barbara Jordan

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At first, my expectations were too high: the blurbs on the back had me hoping Jordan would be another Somers-Willett, wielding every area of knowledge in her search for insight. Then I started reading it and had a moment of fear that she would be instead another poet of the "I went outside my house and saw nature and now I'm going to show you my vacation slides about it" variety. But no, she faces that challenge and makes it through to the other side by examining the vacation-slide phenomenon itself. The first section, Edge, does have a lot of the theme of trying to merge herself back into nature in order to rediscover love and awe. Then, in the second section, Crucible, disasters strike and Jordan seems to be chasing the tornado. Finally, in the third section, Ammonites, she looks for open spaces and souvenirs, trying to work out a way to respect the past without being trapped by it. "How often I've followed / wistfulness with its purple smoke," she says. She writes with craft, and with moments that cinch up in sound:

Precarious radiance
frames the skylit world, the soft catkins
that hang from the alders. We sit at the edge
of stillness,
and a few frogs begin to coll, one to another,
with a ragged scintillance
in the whiteness of water at dusk: blue-
white, except where the shadows stipulate.

--from "Threshold"

So sequence unfolds to consequence
as faithfully as wind, as the low-pressure zones
we watch, omnisciently, swirling west to east
on a planetary chart;
and like gods we pity, remotely,
those whose death will come in a cloud---

--from "Chernobyl"

At these moments one almost believes the poem will become essential, will have to write itself into the fabric of life. Jordan never quite makes it to that point of indispensability, but she uses her materials well and will make you meditate upon your own relationship to the world. ( )
  chellerystick | Feb 10, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140265317, Paperback)

The poet Barbara Jordan, whose first book, Channel, was the winner of the 1989 Barnard New Women Poets Prize, has won acclaim for her ability to interweave the strands of religion, nature, language, and art in work which shimmers with stylistic elegance. Her second book, Trace Elements, explores residues of meaning and mystery--of history, belief systems, old categories of classification--from a place of abandonment or skepticism. What can we know? How do we order knowledge? What are twentieth-century versions of the Fall? These are some of the questions this new collection addresses, in richly textured poems whose form blend freedom and restraint, and whose language has, in the words of Robert Pinsky, "the impact of saturated colors: consonants and vowels in lush cadences, luxuriance of image and phrase."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:07 -0400)

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