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Poetry Worth Reading… and Rereading
A poetry book review by Nathan Harms

Here, on the Ground
by Marianne Jones
FriesenPress, 2010, Paperback 6x9, 68 pages, $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-77067-031-0

Good poetry prompts a pause in the reader's intellectual and emotional processes—but great poetry demands a complete reboot. Marianne Jones's poetry book, Here, on the Ground, (FriesenPress 2010, ISBN 978-1-77067-031-0, 68pp) caused many unexpected and pleasurable restarts for this reviewer.

Jones's book begins with the poem, "The Little Match Girl" (after Hans Christian Andersen's story), a poem I read first in the way many of us read poetry—which is to say like baby robins, beaks agape for the expected delivery of something satisfying, but not too difficult to digest.

But wait! What's this:

she took no offence
understanding the need to see pretty things…

…like Stephen
she died with paradise in her eyes. (p. 2)

So, after completing a reading of "The Little Match Girl," I was compelled—by this unexpected entry of the martyr, Stephen, and his juxtaposition to the Match Girl—to reread the poem. The work offered more than I could absorb in one pass.

As a frequent judge of poetry contests for Utmost Christian Writers Foundation, one of the standards by which this reviewer evaluates worthy poetry is by his answer to this question, "Do I want to read this again?" Not, "Must I read it again because it is so incomprehensible or unapproachable that I can't understand it," but "Does this poem prompt my appetite for a deeper experience?"

Most of the poetry in Here, on the Ground meets this measure.

A glimpse of shoulder

A temptation for many poets, even skilled poets, is to withhold our secret inner lives from the page. We fear the judgment of a reader; "I thought she was a Christian—how could she write about that?!" But poetry that flows from a shy, secretive or dishonest attitude can frustrate and bore the reader. Poetry that hints at vital actions, thoughts or experiences, and stops short of revelation is a disappointment.

Such is the work of many Christian poets: just when the reader hopes for the unbinding of hair and the glimpse of bare shoulder, the poet draws the curtain and points away to the lovely sunset or… quotes a Scripture verse. Marianne Jones's poetry avoids this tact, opening herself up so that we see her fully. In such opening, we see ourselves not only in our godliness, but in our humanness as well. How can we find redemption except by acknowledging both?

Confidentially

That my life is commonplace
is of no surprise to anyone.
That my eyes are beautiful in any light
you may not be aware.
That I waste whole afternoons in cafes
is a fact gossiped about by many.
That on clear days I soar over rooftops
is a secret I hug to myself. (p. 18)

Aside from the intended contradiction of a confessed "secret" revealed in a published book, "Confidentially" is a means by which the poet extends her heart to the reader. "Listen, you are like me. There are things about you that are well known. There are things about yourself in which you take secret delight. And there are hidden things about you which—if revealed—might utterly confound the world."

What's "Christian" about it?

Jones's book is divided into five sections:
          The Little Match Girl,
          Here, on the Ground,
          Shadowlands,
          red shoes
          How Canadians Survive Winter

Although few poems in Here, on the Ground are overtly religious in subject matter ("Shadowlands" is one example, and the "Shadowlands" section of the book contains others), Jones's poetry generally interweaves and integrates with her Christian faith. Repeatedly, we find Christian or Bible references playing a foundational role in poems about human relations, nature or whimsy. Here, on the Ground is a book that could be read by anyone for its pure literary sake, but also has the potential to speak gospel.

Here, on the Ground is not without weaknesses. This reviewer found the poem, "Thirst," to be slightly sentimental. And in the poems, "The Earth is a Good Listener" and "Adagio" there is a repetition of two complex and memorable phrases. Each of these poems is strong, and an editor might have suggested that the repeated lines be altered in one of them.

Here, on the Ground is a perfect balance of poetry that is accessible, faith-filled and highly crafted… a highly recommended purchase.