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Book review of the Poetry Collection Groundworks by Amanda Jernigan. Published by urbanicity, June 2012.
Published:
This spring, I’vebeen busy digging into Groundworks(Bibiloasis, 2011), a thin, 64-paged book of poetry. Despite its size, thisliterary work of art is heavy and so satisfying. Amanda Jernigan is one of themost refreshing poets I’ve read in years, and she has only just published herfirst work. The book made the short list for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award andNational Public Radio’s (NPR) list of the top five published poetry books for2011.

She is making herhome in downtown Hamilton.

Groundworks
is a collection of three poetic sequences.The first sequence, Excavation, hovers around an archeological dig and exploreshow we view our history. First Principals, looks at the story of the Garden ofEden and explores the concepts of origin and stewardship. The last sequence,Journeyworks, contains the story of The Odyssey with Penelope and Odysseus,dealing with journeys and artistry.

The poems seemintimidating because they are intellectual. But as with all poetry, the readerneeds to let the words ruminate and like a puzzle it will pop out at you. Groundworks is a deeply personal look athow to be a person, how to relate to each other, and how to relate to theearth.

Jernigan’s workis stunning, full of ancient images, and words we forgot we knew. The poemsbegin as loose ideas that grow and link together in her mind. She uses hermemory, rather than a pen, to work out her poems, and listens to the music ofthe lines as she composes them. This meansher work is more traditional in form and meter; it often rhymes.

My favourite poem,Delivery, is about the fall from grace as depicted in the Judeo-Christiancreation story. The theme is deep, and the images sparkle. The last stanzareads as such:

Beyond the gate,
The yard slopes gently to thegarden:
Turnips, kale, one ancient tree
Still bearing fruit.
Amid the unmown grass
About its roots, I can just see
The windfall apples, green andgolden.

Outof grace, we bring forth children. (35)

Jernigan capturessomething insightful. The world is full of pain and toil, with grass thatalways needs mowing. And yet humans keep living, deep in the beauty of animperfect garden.

Jernigan believespoetry is a very relevant art form. While not a religious person, she findscomfort from the ritual and music of poetry. She thinks it can be deeplypersonal, and has the power to teach, or to connect us to something bigger thanourselves. She is often surprised by her work; the words seem to come out likea force field that forms something beyond her intention.

Her childhood wasbuilt upon literature; she was told myths and stories to understand herexistence. Her grandfather read poetryto her at an early age and so she loved the rhythm and the music of poetry evenbefore she could understand the words of the nineteenth and twentieth centurypoets.

Jernigan and herhusband, the artist John Haney, settled in downtown Hamilton since 2010. Beforethat, they were living a slightly transient life following freelance work alongthe East Coast. Being here has been goodfor the artistic couple helping them connect with other local artists. Jerniganread at the closing night for gritLitat the beginning of April.

A new book ofpoetry written simultaneously to Groundworkswill be published by Cormorant Books next year. Jernigan is working on her PhDat McMaster University, and dancing at the HCA in a modern dance class. Her essays and poetry have appeared in variouspublications in Canada and the US. You can pick up a copy of Groundworks at the local book storesaround town. If you love poetry, you won’t regret it.