Amanda Jernigan writes poems that make your brain fizz with their rhetorical flourish, the chops and changes of her lines, their dense, active language, their allusiveness, and their brawny intelligence. She writes out of what she calls a scholarly aesthetic, a formal and referential rootedness in tradition and wide-reading. Besides poems, she writes essays and plays. She is a contributing editor at The New Quarterly and Canadian Notes & Queries. With her partner, the artist John Haney, she has produced limited-edition books and broadsides under the imprint Daubers Press. Her work has been published and performed in Canada, the United States, and Germany, and is featured in the online archive of the Poetry Foundation. The dog’s name is Ruby. The photos are by John Haney.
These five poems are from Amanda’s first collection Groundwork: poems, published by the exciting Canadian literary press Biblioasis in fall, 2011.
Groundwork comprises three poetic sequences, the first situated on and around an archaeological dig in modern-day Tunisia, the second situated in and out of a distinctly heterodox Garden of Eden, the third testing the waters of Homer’s Odyssey as a medium for the working-out of the relationship between artist and traveller. Written over a period of eight years, alongside other, unconnected lyrics, these poems represent stages in the development of a poet’s thinking about language and place; at the same time, they form a series of parallel meditations on past, present, and the mythological constructs with which we seek to join them. —Amanda Jernigan
Five poems from the sequence “First Principals”
By Amanda Jernigan
The time, if time it was, would ripen
in its own sweet time. One thought of dawn.
One felt that things were shaping up,
somehow, that it was getting on.
Day broke. Upon the waters broke
in waves on waves unbreaking and
night fell, unveiling in its wake
one perfect whitened rib of land.
I slept, and while I slept I dreamed,
a breaking wave, a flowering tree,
and all of one accord I seemed.
I woke, and you divided me.
The Birds of Paradise
Adam and Eve and Pinchme
went down to the river to bathe.
Adam and Eve were drowned.
Who do you think was saved?
Between her pills, his poisons,
the water in which we bathe
is less than pure: I rather doubt
that even I’ll be saved.
My pet canary, William, died.
But, I am reassured,
there is a factory upstream
to replicate the bird
in polyvinyl chloride: moving
parts, a voice-box cheep —
with proven nightengalish means
of putting one to sleep.
Do I wake or sleep? Indeed,
the answer is the same.
Ask Finnegan. In fact, ask me,
if you can guess my name.
Adam at the Altar
The name shall answer to the beast
………………………..without a moment’s staying:
fish and fowl — and flesh, not least —
But save your ‘wilt thou’, parish priest:
………………………..for she goes without saying.
All make-believe amounting to pretending
to the throne, I banished Eve, and Adam,
loath to go it on his own, went after.
That year the grapes fermented on the vine,
the fields lay fallow. I thought I’d take a stab
at beekeeping, but years have passed: you almost
wouldn’t know there was a garden here. The streams,
uninterrupted, flow from Eden as they always did.
The apple trees, untended, go to crab.
Imagine it, Adam: old woman and grey,
I found myself walking again in the garden,
the trees in full fruit as they were on that day.
Therein lies the question: again, did I eat?
Again. It was as we remembered. More sweet.