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A Review of Jenny Rossi’s ‘Riches for One, Poverty for Two’

I don’t normally review books, but I am partial to a spot of poetry. And, as I once read that selling fifty or so copies of a poetry book is pretty much a best seller (which stupidly, at the time, put me off following up on doing more of it myself [1]), I have great respect for anyone who can create a good volume – perhaps just for their own satisfaction – and I still love everything about it. Poetry is feeling in action.

I’ve been meaning to review Riches for One, Poverty for Two for a long time. I first read this book trundling over the Forth Rail Bridge in Scotland, in a rickety old rail carriage. The sun was blazing, the sky was blue. A perfect point for poetry. And I love the fact that I read it half way around the world from where it was written and it was still relevant.

[1] This was pre internet explosion – a while back, then. I suspect poetry fares somewhat better now that true fans can find it.

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here are 21 poems in this book; 28 pages; nice vintage cover. It’s slim but it’s generous.

These are short, pithy little poems that swing between a deliberate contentiousness that drops words like hot stones (“squelchy and tinny”), to a playfulness with plenty of ‘quirk’. Socks crop up a few times, too; or perhaps I just happened to notice the soft footfall of their inclusion. Either way, this somehow comforting item of clothing stayed with me.

There’s a lot here that feels personal and slightly lonely or unloved – as if an observation apart, or a momentary thought on something small that others would likely miss. You could say that’s the default of the poetry ideal, but that’s not what’s happening here. More likely, you’ll find a subversive insight that’ll make you think. Somebody’s been sitting back, mouth shut, watching, and now they’re going to derail you. It may even be a test – to see what you do. There’s attitude and sass – a ‘fuck you’, if you don’t like it.

In places, this book is written with a social conscience for ‘the little guy or gal’, with vinegar on top, and rightfully so. On occasion there are flowers; citrus gives you your ‘five a day’. I’d say Jenny has a point, and that vinegar cuts nicely through any fatty sentiment. It’s not maudlin. It’s not affected. It’s not over-achievingly shocking (though can pack a visceral punch). It’s almost blunt at times, but in a truly poetic way (“Oh, Bukowski”). That really was good – made me laugh, and then go ‘ew’.

Some of the poems wander through relationships – through conversation, exposing some pivotal ‘we’ – scratch at a splinter, or fool around with a day-to-day detail that feels fabulous and important, spinning gold and post cards out of the crashingly mundane (becoming the fizz in “Drink for One”), but never in a way that’s crass or uninteresting. Subjectivity is a subject in itself; the ink in the pen, as much as the breath in the incised lines.

If it’s horrid, it’s beautifully so. If it’s wistful, it’s guarded. Always cleverly illuminated – this is bazaar (colour and texture) not bizarre (you what?).  And in fact, the whole collection is like a window into a Samarkand cafe, somewhere in up-state Vermont: a window you want to peer through – climb through – to a different place, a different world of scuffed, ‘lived in’ poetry, that almost gruffly keeps its distance (do remember it’s a window not a door), and there’s a depth of feeling I’m sure is more than a source of a sigh to the writer, but which is very much involving to the reader. In actual fact, this is everybody’s back yard.

This is a conversation you really want to listen to, and you want the writer to like you (shouldn’t that be the other way round?), but whether these poems want to spend time with you is another matter; and somehow, that makes you respect the author and want to read them all the more.

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If you want to read ‘Riches for One, Poverty for Two’ you can pick up a copy from here. You can also read more of Jenny’s work on Popsicle Stand.

6 comments

1 Jenny Dreadful { 08.10.12 at 7:26 pm }

You’ve slayed me. Simply beautiful.

2 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 11:03 am }

@Jenny — you’re welcome. I thought your book was well worth a read — an honest, to God poetry book; and a really good one. If this were music, sometimes I listen to bands on the radio or go to a gig and wonder: why have we heard about this person and not that person; there’s really no difference between their ability to create something worthwhile. Besides, there isn’t one ‘best’ gig, but many different nuances of gig that do different things. So what gives? While I’m sure hard work counts every time, and you have to have a gift — perhaps mined out, like diamond in rock — there’s nothing to public perception beyond good, honest luck and people getting a chance to hear about you.

So I read a collected volume of poetry by someone everyone’s heard of and then I read yours and I thought: there’s really no reason I know one and not the other. I just know the name of that some-other poet from a few more places.

St.

3 joe clifford { 08.10.12 at 7:30 pm }

A great review for a terrific collection!

4 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 11:12 am }

@Joe — thanks Joe. Terrific is a good word. 🙂

5 Jim Tolan { 08.10.12 at 8:10 pm }

Jenny Rossi is one of the very best new poets I’ve come across this year and I’ve read plenty. She is that rare mix of gift and fortitude. If you’re not following her work, time to start.

6 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 11:17 am }

@Jim — as might be guessed, I whole-heartedly endorse your viewpoint to any other readers. 😀 St

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