A collection of tricksters from Anton Mesmer to the inexplicable gods of Ovid; fairy-tale characters and figures from memory; the white blanket of snow in the far north across which a small plane flies: these recurrent images haunt and populate Jesme’s Albedo. “A small abyss becomes / larger with use,” she writes, yet in examining the mostly ordinary and sometimes extraordinary ways in which the individual comes to perceive and love the world, Jesme acknowledges a landscape of “dormancy for the duration” with poems that confront multiple mournings.
“Poetry’s truest measure is not language but time, and our best poetry reveals its trust in the paradox of its wordless foundation. ‘Time does not enter it/ or does,’ Kathleen Jesme writes, ‘but in a slant way because/ words are history/ and hoax.” Albedo derives its considerable power from what it knows to be hoax and homestead at once, and time dwells in the book as sequence, as series, and as discrete lyric, its totality poignantly multiple in a measure made sacred by faith. A liturgical calendar counted out in weeks of weather and grief, trees and seasons, deaths and animals, this is a devotional book of hours bound in snow, a missal for those for whom ‘god is organic/and arrives from the inside.’” —Brian Teare
“The season is winter. The death is the father’s. The question is: How far can language take us? And when it takes us there—into silence and through silence—how exactly will we be brought back? There is grief in this book, for sure, but also something else: a wonderment that such lives as ours exist. Finally the act of writing itself does truly take Jesme where she needs to go, where we all need to go: ‘and now here I am fixing up/the solitary again.’ Albedo is a truly amazing book.” —Jim Moore
Half Is Water
/Half is land
Water I believe/Land porous and full of gaps and spaces
You pleated on that side/I arranged here
Exposed outTroughs and waves
croppingsbreaker and surge
Your tendency to steadyMine to sway
Yours to signalMine to gesture
Half/weight/Half the other
Copyright © 2014 by Kathleen Jesme
Kathleen Jesme reads from Albedo at 2014 AWP in Seattle.
"If there are any moments that beg for the question can language alone carry us through a poem, and likewise, through moments of solitude or loss, Jesme argues, with this collection, yes. And sometimes a line, image, or stanza jumps off the page that is simply a gem. For instance, she writes, 'I mean: there are voices that / lacking all color / conduct light like glass.' . . . If you love a challenge; if you question language, loss, existence; if you have an appreciation for measured chaos, this collection of diverse poems is an excellent read." —The Corresponder, Mankato State University
Like most poets I know, I’ve spent a huge chunk of my waking life reading and writing. I still have a couple of the books I read as a very young child and several of my earliest attempts at writing: I found them while going through my mother’s things after she died. So it made sense for me to get an undergraduate degree in English literature—more reading and writing!—from the University of Minnesota, and then to go into a career as a writer of elearning programs. There was no poetry in it, but it was, and is, good work, and it developed in me a discipline that would transfer nicely to poetry.
But time passes and my creative clock was running out. I went to Warren Wilson’s low-residency program and got an MFA in poetry. Now, although my work is professional writing, my vocation is creative writing.
I live in a log house with many windows overlooking five acres of rolling hills and trees. The hills have been here since the last ice age. The trees were planted about 20 years ago. They are now 35 feet tall, but still pliant in the wind. Many varieties of birds come and go with the seasons. My work will always contain at its core a seed of the natural world, which my father introduced me to as a child growing up on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota.
Poets whose work I love and who have, I hope, made me a better poet: First and foremost, Dickinson. Then Hopkins, C.D. Wright, Rae Armantrout, Louise Glück, Anne Carson, Brenda Hillman, Carol Snow, Roethke, Bishop. Etc.
When I was very young, I would stand on the shore of the Rainy River and watch my father disappear into the sky in a big yellow bird with a red stripe, and I thought he was magic. I began this book as a reflection on how people and things come and go, altering continuously in our perception, and how we use language to come to terms with those experiences. Flight: the sudden shift of perspective, the large becoming small, the earth from far away, the door becoming a window, the snow and its sudden change of the landscape, the father becoming absent, returning again in a tree and in memory. These are some of the transformations working in Map of the Floating World.
The first section of the book, “Albedo,” was initially inspired by reading I was doing about Anton Mesmer. It's hard to say whether Mesmer was a great psychologist or a complete charlatan. Both, actually. He was a Trickster and a transformative character on the liminal edge of the new psychology of the unconscious who discovered that people could be “mesmerized”—hypnotized—to reveal the depths of the inner world and also made to act in ways they would not when fully conscious. This sequence also reflects ideas of the alchemists, who were involved in psychological transformation long before Freud and Jung came along.
As you can probably guess, writing is for me is work of the psyche. Why do certain images come at a particular time in one’s life? More important, why do they persist? What is being worked in the inner space that reveals itself through one’s outer attentiveness? I try to become aware of these persistencies and follow them, allow them to dwell, and let them come into my writing as they want to. The result, with this book, is language that enacts the surprising twists and protean turns of the Trickster in mythology, history, and my personal experience. I love the element of unpredictability inherent in the English language, glorious in its ambiguity and capacity for sudden turns.
Language is a bell that can rung over and over, and only silenced when the overtones finally die—and perhaps they never do, but rather are flung into space and are traveling still through the expanding universe.