A Review of Gemini/Scorpio/Capricorn

Gemini/Scorpio/Capricorn (ALL CAPS PUBLISHING) gets you three poets—Shay Caroline Simmons, Kelli Simpson and Joy Ann Jones—in one volume, so if quantity matters to you, you’ve got it here. All three poets are outstanding, all three are blogging poets—among the best you will find on the web.

Shay Caroline Simmons’ Blogger moniker is Fireblossom, an apt name for a poet as dynamic as she is, often flashing a fearsome wit in poems that explore a variety of formal options regarding line length, spacing and punctuation. “Let’s fuck as if our lives depend upon it,” she writes in Love Poem in Extremis, “Because they do, sweetheart, / They do.” Simmons writes on a razor’s edge, daring you to cut yourself as you read.

Take my hand.
Trust me.
I’ll lead, just this once, light as a draught horse,
and you, Darling,
why, you will follow down stage
like a pretty hearse,
driverless and sinking
through the brittle ice and into obscurity.
—Shay Caroline Simmons, Carmencarrion

Calling on Cerberus and succubi and challenging a culture of male machismo, Simmons reserves her tenderness for working girls and gypsy girls, but it is a tenderness tempered by fire. The narrator of Keeping Tigers recounts the difficulty not only of keeping tigers but more importantly of living amongst others while tigers rage inside. The pacing of the ravenous beasts becomes conflated with the narrator’s mad hunger for the girl next door, whose beautiful pet bird was killed by the tigers. And while she warns that “Beauty should never lower its guard around appetite”, she finds herself in the poem’s dreamlike denouement headed across the street, tigers in toe, to stand on the girl’s porch “like a little innocent bird, / offering her my heart like an Aztec.”

Simmons does not invite the reader into her world of rage and hunger, any more than William Burroughs invites the reader into his (which is not to suggest that a writer who does invite necessarily panders to the reader). Whether offering or obsidian knife, it seems to me the reader must choose, or else choose not to choose.

Kelli Simpson excels at concise poetic pearls, saying just enough while suggesting—and this I admire—the supreme importance of what lies outside the poem. Her Blogger name is Mama Zen, and how appropriate it is.

I’m the method and the measure
between the girl who eats the apple
and the girl who bakes the pie.
—Kelli Simpson, Miss D’Meanor

Poet/Mother contains only six lines, but they are two intertwined texts of three lines each, the one evoking a poetic vision, dreamy and cosmic while the other calls a mother’s focus to the all-consuming sight of a child in the street. In Walk the poet is apparently addressing a loved one, declaring that she has others for any words she may wish to say, “But I have only you / for what I leave unsaid.”

Your Zen moment, in Simpson’s poems, is to realize that the world outside the poem is what matters, the paradox being that the message must be conveyed in a pearl of a text.

For me the gem of this collection are the poems of Joy Ann Jones. I have been admiring her poems as Hedgewitch at Verse Escape for several years now and there isn’t a blogging poet I admire more. She brings knowledge of traditional verse forms together with a broad reading in world mythology and an appreciation of witchcraft into a contemporary voice rich with personal history. At its best, whether it rhymes or not, her verse sings. Stormcrow alone is worth the price of this book. Here is the first stanza:

catch me if you can.
Circle and dive as I collapse
in a brick arpeggio,
shattering harpsichord ice bells.
Blow the thaw jazzed as a discord
down from the burning brass horn
of your craw.
Set your ebonyblue wings acrawl, wind
moonpock shadows on my shoulders,
your gaze a crackling smoke
of black wildflowers
flamed in the wickered willow
of your yellow eye.
—Joy Ann Jones, Stormcrow

In A Remedy For Memory Jones provides a witch’s recipe, parts of which, at least, actually sound doable:

When the fruit is full, scoop out
the innards, then pierce it a mouth with
the sharpened legbone of
an old doe who
stumbled at the last ditch.
Let this dry in October sun.
—Joy Ann Jones, A Remedy For Memory

One can see in these two samples Jones’ surprising use of portmanteaus, the musical possibilities of word-sound combinations and a careful measuring of lines. She is among the most musical of contemporary poets. She gives us two versions of Deadlight. Here is a comparison of the first stanzas:

We walked together, your fetch and I
under a dry black moon
in a milk wet sky.


We walked together
in black moon weather
your fetch and I under a milk wet sky.

She has the same quality that makes Hart Crane and Samuel Beckett two of my favorite writers: an ability to construct language that I read aloud for the pleasure of its sound alone. I would heartily welcome more books by Joy Ann Jones, reserving a special spot for them on my poetry shelf.

All three poets in Gemini/Scorpio/Capricorn are very strong, each in their own ways, and in the case of Jones the work soars. I can’t recommend this book enough.

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6 Responses to A Review of Gemini/Scorpio/Capricorn

  1. hedgewitch says:

    Goodness, Mark. I’m just floored. No one’s assessment could mean more to me, either, as you know I find your work some of the most thoughtful challenging, and intricate out there. I’m deeply appreciate of your kind words and feel quite unworthy, but am also very chuffed to get them from someone whose opinion I value so highly. I know Shay and Kelli will be equally appreciative, so I am sharing this with them. Many many heartfelt thanks–we all need support and validation to create, I think, and what could be more so than this!

  2. coalblack says:

    Fireblossom here, in my WordPress clothes. Thank you so much for this excellent and positive review of our book! Indeed, Joy may be the grown-up poet among us. In any event, I am extremely proud to share authorship of this book with two such amazing writers. Thanks again for this well-written and illuminating review.

  3. angela says:

    Wonderful review, Mark… when a regular at dverse, I was forever amazed and inspired by Joy Ann’s voice – oft leaving her page feeling as if I’d just returned from another land.

  4. Mama Zen says:

    Thank you so much, Mark!

  5. Pingback: Best Reads of 2013 | The Mockingbird Sings

  6. Pingback: Guest Poet: Joy Ann Jones | The Mockingbird Sings

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