When asked about the core questions at the heart of her beautiful and acclaimed debut collection, Jenny George writes “The inquiry in these poems is shaped by the question: How much of our aliveness can we bear? Another way of asking that is: How much of our own capacity for violence must we tolerate in order to be fully awake?”
Judge of the 13th Annual Poetry Prize for High School Girls, George’s resonant language reveals vivid, multi-layered narrative and descriptive worlds. She crafts elaborate, intimate dreamscapes, writing about touch in “The Miniature Bed” as “opening the dark, / like a match, the sun’s flaring.”
“My job,” George declared in a recent interview, “is the human job of waiting and listening, and language is just what poets use—like wind chimes—to catch the sound of the larger, more essential thing. Wind chimes themselves are not the point. The point is the wind.” That patient waiting and listening results in meticulously honed poems that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove has praised for their “exquisitely spare meditation.”
Jenny George is the author of The Dream of Reason (Copper Canyon, 2018), and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fund, the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Yaddo. Her work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Ploughshares, Narrative, Cimarron Review, and The Collagist, among others. George holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she serves as program coordinator for the Hidden Leaf Foundation, a Buddhist-based social justice organization.
Poetry Center Reading:
I forgot the prairie because it stood
so still. I forgot the clouds because
they were always moving. I forgot
the taste of water because it lay quietly
inside the taste of everything.
I forgot a childhood when it disappeared
through a hole in itself. Later, mushrooms
emerged from the damp soil.
The way to keep something is to forget it.
Then it goes to an enormous place.
Grass grows to the horizon like hair.
In the sky the clouds go on naming
and unnaming themselves.
Origins of Violence
There is a hole.
In the hole is everything
people will do
to each other.
The hole goes down and down.
It has many rooms
like graves and like graves
they are all connected.
Roots hang from the dirt
in craggy chandeliers.
It’s not clear
where the hole stops
beginning and where
it starts to end.
It’s warm and dark down there.
The passages multiply.
There are ballrooms.
There are dead ends.
The air smells of iron and
People will do anything.
They will cut the hands off children.
Children will do anything—
In the hole is everything.
Before the insects start to grind their million bodies,
before impulse scatters the deer into the trees,
there’s a rest.
The dawn and the day observe each other.
The herd begins to move over the field, one shared dream
of grass and wind.
The small stones of their hooves in the stony field.
I’ve exhausted my cruelty.
I’ve arrived at myself again.
The sun builds a slow house inside my house,
touching the stilled curtains, the bottoms of cups
left out on the table.