Fiona Sinclair reviews ‘To Mick Jagger, Other Gods, And All Women’ by Jane Rosenberg LaForge
The poems in this collection are densely packed with ideas and imagery. They are generally in a block form without stanzas thereby demanding that the reader takes their time reading them. Meaning is not immediately apparent but with repeated close study the often complex ideas become clearer .The author’s technique is to start with a concrete idea which then sparks a series of contemplations that are often metaphysical. However what draws the reader on is a fine use of lyrical rhythm with an often elegiac tone. This is not to say that the poems are depressing but take an honest look at aspects of humanity ranging from ageing and death to the modern obsession with making false gods out of the famous.
A recurrent thread throughout the collection is that of family, for me poems dealing with female members are the most notable. Rosenberg La forge has a talent for effective yet sparing imagery. In the poem ‘Her sister ‘s face’ the eponymous face is described as having given in to’ the improbable origami of time ‘ This is a particularly skilful poem as it begins with the contemplation of her sister’s ageing then swiftly moves onto the metaphysical question of ‘ who is to say where her atoms went?’ then is the final section pulls back from abstract thought to the more concrete memories of a shared childhood where the persona can no longer see ‘ the scar I gave her one year with the help of chicken pox.’
Disease figures prominently in the poems. ’ Recovery’ is a painful profile of a woman overwhelmed by the effects of radiation therapy. What is so effecting about the poem is not simply the patients’ inability to speak or swallow freely post treatment ‘since the radiation she keeps her fingers in her mouth’ but the way in which the narrator translates this behaviour as symbolic of the woman attempting to ‘prevent god from intervening where He was not wanted’.
Whilst death is not explicitly mentioned here its presence and effect on the patient is inferred by some fine imagery ‘the root of bitterness taking ‘which serves to convey the fear and anger felt by the victim. .
God in one guise or other features throughout the collection, however these are not devotional poems on the contrary there is no sense of faith rather a feeling that all Gods betray humanity in one way or another. Such poems focus subtly on the ways in which our modern deities such as film and rock stars ultimately let us down. However these works do not simply take on contemporary icons and trash them but rather they take the subject as a starting point for other ideas. This is best seen in the opening poem ‘Rock Star Watching’. The celebrity is generic thereby allowing the reader to project his/her only fantasy figure onto them. The poem contemplates the mystery of such stars’ attraction. It seeks to define that element usually found in performance that makes them worshiped by their audience.
In other poems such as ‘Before Elton John as a faggot’, the rock hero is linked to the narrator’s teenage years where ‘there were possibilities in the blood, the brain and the body in between’. The poem extending into a reverie on the absolute self -belief of youth that circumvents obstacles , ‘I believed that if I held my face long and high enough during a running leap I would just keep going into the sun and behind it’, the excellent use of enjambment here serving to reinforce this unstoppable optimism. However the poem ends in realism, with the introduction of sexual politics into the narrator’s life. ’ Male facing shadows and they directions they demand’. This line and indeed much of this female centred poem chiming with many woman who recall the moment when the need to please men, obtain a boyfriend became imperative to anything else.
This collection explores ideas that may at times make uncomfortable reading. Death, disease, ageing are all contemplated full on but the writer’s skill is to discuss such issues with fine imagery, often placing the dialectic in the context of the family where the effect is touching and relevant.
Order your copy of To Mick Jagger, Other Gods, And All Women published by Aldrich Press here