Jessica Goodfellow. The Insomniac’s Weather Report. Tokyo, Japan: Isobar Press, 2014. 108 pages. $15, paper.
Jessica Goodfellow is obsessed. Her obsessions include water, the weather, insomnia, as well as questions philosophical, mathematical, and celestial. She keeps lists. She jots down ideas and crosses them out. She riddles the page with her wordplay. She marries and remarries. She is somewhat enigmatic, but always charming. In The Insomniac’s Weather Report, her second collection of poems, many different voices emerge, interweave, creating for us a linguistic chorus that is uniquely Goodfellow. Originally published by Three Candles Press, an outfit that folded soon after printing about a hundred copies, Isobar Press took it on and brought it back to life for those of us lucky enough to read this gorgeous collection.
Goodfellow’s performance on the page is nuanced; experimental without seeming like a gimmick. In some of the poems from the final section, titled “Alphabet Fugue,” she crosses out key words and phrases, enacting the drafting process, the discarding and transformation of ideas and metaphors. Language is as much about what we don’t say as what we do say, but in many of Goodfellow’s poems, such as “Map: Glass:” what is not said is said:
A map of wind is usually called glass.
Subtract motion from wind, and oh! what’s left
is window, map of subtracting self from motion gravity
An absence of glass is usually called shadow.
You’d thought it was the opposite lack of light, but no,
it’s liquid dissolve of motion – you, trapped between god.
A map of self is usually called whisper weapon window.
Fusion of sand, lime, ash; sacred translucent barricade
against elements, motion. As if the self were other than.
A map of self is usually a window of god gravity smoke.
Childhood home burning, panes bursting outward.
Homeless, mapless, sparks rising like little yellow birds.
These poems, of course, are not drafts. In drafts we wish to kill the unwanted phrase, but Goodfellow wants us to see what was there before, to show us the metaphors that cohabitate in the same sentence, the same line, and therefore, also cohabitate in our minds, giving them yet another kind of marriage outside the poem.
What Heather McHugh says of Emily Dickinson’s use of dashes seems apropos here: “Whatever was cast is recast in the heat of the reader’s presence, and the poem which was a motion in the author is a motion again in the reader.” Goodfellow’s work suggests an affinity for Dickinson. Dickinson’s poetic dashes unite her ideas, connect them, and in a way, Goodfellow’s act of striking through her own words creates a similar effect. We could easily skip past the “missing” words and still be dazzled by her language. We are uniquely implicated in the building of these poems inside our own minds, laying down multiple images and metaphors like so much brick and mortar.
Early in the book, Goodfellow limbers up with some linguistic acrobatics reminiscent of Wallace Stevens. “How to Describe the Desert Without Saying Water” is a good example. I won’t include this poem in its entirety here, but what follows are the first and final stanzas:
Wanted: bauble of milky mouth.
Fat knee of shameless need, kneading.
Wanted: fontanel ticking, a fist
of collateral tightening. Frightening
whorl of faintest resemblance – thin
as glaze, angle, or desire.
* * *
And now. My moon blooms amphibian.
Glory, my taproot has plummeted.
My matrix is configured. Hosanna.
Madonna figure, de riqueur,
who once beleaguered be.
Full regalia my penetralia is.
The final lines bring to mind Stevens’ “Let be be the finale of seem” (from “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”) and “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (from “The Snow Man”). Goodfellow’s wordplay illuminates her intelligence and her devotion to the transformative nature of language.
There is a strong sense of play throughout this book. My favorite to read aloud is “Chance of Precipitation,” because of its descriptive list, its tongue-twister-ish charm:
Rain’s tonal ticker tape
articulate in triplicate.
River, all glissando
littoral lateral lullaby.
Ocean’s hush-hush hoodoo
chez chartreuse chanteuse
fugue soothed in blue
a wish awash in white noise.
The insomniac longs to transliterate
rain into human alphabet –
French, maybe. A lullaby, a chanson,
a hymn. A baptism of sleep
as unstable as water.
Say that ten times fast, the poet seems to say. I dare you.
In fact, Jessica Goodfellow dares us in many ways throughout this poetry collection. She challenges us to see the world through the prism of her syntax and her linguistic play. She wants us to understand the metaphorical connections among such concepts as weather, water, marriage, identity, and philosophy – all of which crop up and intermingle again and again throughout these poems. Wallace Stevens, in “Three Academic Pieces,” discusses the metaphor as a way for poets (and therefore the readers of poetry) to discover resemblances between things. These resemblances in poetry are what give us pleasure, because when we recognize them, we also recognize ourselves. Goodfellow’s powerful use of metaphor prods us toward a new vision of our world and of our own humanity.
[Blogger’s Note: The formatting of “Map: Glass:” is a bit off. The final word in the first stanza (particulars) should be alone on the line, but should have been indented to the end of the previous line. This blogger struggled with the formatting. Apologies to Ms. Goodfellow.]
More about this author (from The Insomniac’s Weather Report):
Jessica Goodfellow is the author of the chapbook A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (Concrete Wolf, 2006). Her poems have been featured in the anthology Best New Poets 2006, and on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. She was a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, and has been honored with essay and short fiction awards from the Emrys Foundation. After receiving a master’s degree from Caltech, she has worked as a financial analyst, a math teacher, an ESL teacher, and a scientific and medical editor. Raised in the greater Philadelphia area, she lives in Japan with her husband and sons.