BY PAUL-NEWELL REAVES
Filed Under: Poetry
Jane Shore is a poet of memory, sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet. She is a poet of moments with family and friends, also sharp and sweet. Spanning childhood above a New Jersey dress shop, fleets of Jewish mothers and aunts, mourning her own mother, and raising her own daughter: her poems are usually both in simultaneity, and always to her soft and playful music. Not near the end of her already long career, her new book collects her best and brings with them some fresh quirks she has remembered. So That Said repeats what she has already said, but says also, this style has already been said by me. She is moving on. High stakes she has at least one more statement to make―if not in mind―a the Tempest of her own, her own Geography III, perhaps two or three of them.
That Said starts with the new, then works through her five previous volumes, in order. Most major poets are best known by their selected or collected works―a mistake, I feel, as most including Shore’s leave out cover artworks and internal subdivisions, not to mention the all-too-revealing worse poems, poems the authors consider irrelevant. This distinction, between still relevant and not, validates a selected poems collection beyond publicity, beyond best-of. Which poems did these authors at one time considered worthy of publication, but years later not? I have a suspicion that most worse poems are originally included only because the authors so badly want them there, work of so many months or years making them less worse. Shore’s books are slim, so she need not leave many out, but some she does.
And she does, quite significantly, keep the individual book dedications, each marking a new relationship or loss of one, expressing her artistic motivations lying therein. Her book The Minute Hand, with its undercurrents of a biological clock, has no happy ending―how much promise does the final poem’s shipwreck on an island hold? (More than you think, that’s how the poem ends.) The second to last poem is dedicated, but to her favorite poet, a woman three times her age. But the whole book is dedicated, “For Howard,” her husband. My favorite book, Music Minus One is inscribed, “In memory of my parents,” giving dates to show they died within three years of each other. The new poems of That Said are undedicated.
Whenever selections or collections present poems chronologically―and as importantly, maintain the division between previously published volumes―the whole of that author’s work benefits, as does posterity. Shore plays to her regular readers by placing the new poems front and center, a minorly troublesome secession to marketing. When strictly chronological, the progression of the poet’s thought and emotions across his or her career are laid in line, and this line is rarely direct.
I now divide Shore’s career, and the stories of her family―and the arc of Shore’s works is the story of her family―into early Jane (her first book, Eye Level, 1977) mature Jane (The Minute Hand, 1987, and Music Minus One, 1996) and tongue-in-cheek-contented Jane (Happy Family, 1999, A Yes-or-No Answer, 2008, and the new poems in That Said). What I find so valuable about her mature work, and my major distinction between her second and third phases, these middle book are published a full decade after the previous, a full decade for her to craft, to polish, to make more fully shine.
For a poet as emotionally invested as Shore, a fierce craftsman, does not skip casually from one book a decade for three decades, to three years between books, a breach between her mature and more recent works. How were her poems so easily snapping into states of perfection, why so swiftly reaching cannot-be-better-than status? With the birth of her daughter, Emma, gone from Ms. Shore’s lyrical dwellings are the lost milk-carton children of Music Minus One, replaced but three years later by a certain, specific dish of thrifty, Chinese-American cuisine.
Similar Reads: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Selected Poems; Elizabeth Bishop, Collected Poems; Marianne Moore, Collected Poems.