My nephew loves Lisa Jarnot’s a princess magic presto spell. Forget Thomas and all his train friends, the family and their bear hunt, the caterpillar no matter how hungry he might be. Sixteen months old, Nephew full-footed baby-runs his chubby legs down the hall and into the room I’ve invaded in my sister’s home the past several weeks. In a stack of books whose tower has been made vulnerably by the lack of any consistent shape, built more by timing than anything else, he always – always – whether by size (a respectable square of 7.5 inches tall and wide, barely half an inch tall), texture (a cover-binding of paper nothing like suede but with a softness that reminds me of middle school choir robes all the same) finds this triptych.
opening Part Three’s Every Body’s Bacon. In between such lines and language, now and then we land on artwork by Emilie Clark punctuating sections of the poems throughout the book. What he is in awe of, he can’t tell me yet. But Nephew points, vocalizes the ooohs and wows I’m also thinking of when I encounter these images which seem, in a sense, to be the cellular constructions of somethings enlarged, enlarged by a kaleidoscopic microscope. They are bright in a muted watercolor scale, intricate and smooth as line-drawings.
Admittedly, I find myself more easily understanding of Clark’s images than Jarnot’s poems. Another confession: I am an engineer’s daughter. I find safety in logic and order. On any given day when I go to the page, I most go for the opportunity to trust in means of communication I grew up with. It is far too easy for me to point at a collection like Jarnot’s and ask the mundane question along the lines of how do we as readers make sense of the pieces put together. This is a limitation of my reading, I am aware.
At this point in my reading history, I’m far less interested in these more obvious inquiries. Or – I see them as, in fact, so very important they risk and then lose meaning. While the impulse I still have is to find sense-making markers through Jarnot’s work, which presto spell is my first encounter, and poets writing similar verses, it leads to an unproductive thought-game that gambles with the beauty and wonder which ultimately makes this a book I’ve come to keep close.
Of course the child is how I came to better understand presto spell.
After a few times through the collection, I most looked forward to page 26 not only for the large Clark image on the adjacent side, but in particular for these lines early on in Every Body’s Bacon –
These statements feel grounded, pointed, but not without sincerity or an intimacy. Much of Jarnot’s collection refuses personhood like this, but only so much as I-ness creates. Personality, without personal pronoun, is full and rich and palpable here in presto spell in a way that, once I noticed the omission – the revision – made me realize how much we rely on personal pronouns as stand-ins. Use of I or he or she, they can be shortcuts, allowances to leave out small details that Jarnot’s writing flourishes with.
A few times more than those, a small child on my lap reacting to and interacting with the language rolling off my tongue, off the pages of presto spell, I better understood to remember something not necessarily foreign but so fundamental about the aurality of language.
I will line up in the sentences of this lonely vehiculate, a day leaning toward evening, a
midsummer cacophony of peaches, hydrangeas, and bees,
We end with wonder, an incantation to call ourselves home, or away, wherever will make us imaginative to lose and then regain ourselves with awe.
a princess magic presto spell is available from SOLID OBJECTS
Christine Holm began writing poetry while employed in social services and continues to find spaces where creative work overlaps with community service, from writing with palliative care patients through Poesia del Sol to teaching inmates with The Writers in Prison Project.