Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Tender Wild Things, by Diane Jarvenpa, and Nude in Winter, by Francine Sterle: Book Reviews

by Nathan Bergstedt

The Tender Wild Things, by Diane Jarvenpa, and Nude in Winter, by Francine Sterle, are two books of poetry by Minnesota women authors that delve deep in the realm of descriptive language. Though the topics at the root of their writing; their muse, if you will, are worlds apart.

Jarvenpa, whose grandparents emigrated from Finland, uses touches of her ancestral culture, and the aspects that join that culture with the one we now live, as fresh fodder for unfolding her poems. On each page she paints a picture of her personal world; what she sees and experiences, and how these elements have shaped her as a person. She acknowledges our overall relationship to the natural world, and presents in her poems our collective desire to seek and harvest (that is, to make our own, and hopefully become part of) the tender wild things of the world.

Just as imaginatively, Francine Sterle, in her book Nude in Winter, attempts to blur the lines between visual and written art by presenting this series of poems about, well, visual art. As a translator has to interpret writing from one language in order to put it into a new one, so does Sterle with these poems, though their original language was never written. But unlike a true conceptual series, the poems vary from describing a particular work of art, to some that are about the artists themselves. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, and it can certainly make for stronger individual poems. But it does take away from what could’ve been a stronger central idea that the book on the whole seems to be about.

But with great honesty to her subjects, she molds the style of each poem to best suit the mood of the referenced piece. She writes not just with words, but also with structure, and with wonderful results.

Both of these books are rich with poems written by observers. Whether the subjects involve the natural world and how we try to immerse ourselves in it, or whether they’re objects of previous artistic thought and emotion, both books offer an opportunity to view the world through the author’s eyes. Which one you read depends on what you want to see.

The Tender Wild Things is published by New Rivers Press, and Nude in Winter is published by Tupelo Press.

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