Today’s guest, poet Oliver de La Paz, whose most recent books is Requiem for the Orchard (University of Akron, 2010), reflects on one of his big poetry loves, Laura Jensen.
I am, by temperament, a water person. I made a pact with myself when I was very young that for every year of my life, I must see the ocean. Having lived in mostly desert areas, such a pact stretched my resources. I was also a solitary kid. I spent lots of my childhood alone with books, reading long into the day while the neighborhood kids pelted each other with dirt clods in the back lots. By temperament I am quiet, stormy. A perfect fit for the gray weather of the Pacific Northwest. Which is why the fact that I had lived in the desert for so long directly conflicts with my temperament.
When I was a student at Arizona State University, Beckian Fritz Goldberg was reciting aloud snippets of a poem by Laura Jensen. She said “They are like women because they sway./They are like men because they swagger.” What sways and swaggers, I asked. The bad boats. She replied. “They are bad boats and they hate their anchors.” Oh, I said. And so she sent me on a hunt for Laura Jensen’s book, Bad Boats. After I found Bad Boats, I hunted down Memory, then Shelter. And then my search stopped. Alas, there were no more books by Laura Jensen, and I began to worry that her moods might have caused her to evaporate with the rain.
Laura Jensen’s work is the work for my temperament. The interiority of Jensen’s voice reminds me of the ocean. There are secrets inside her that are nestled like eggs along the stony coastlines. The first poem of Bad Boats is “The Red Dog,” and I feel the sand on the coastline as the speaker watches a dog chase after geese in the bay, how the geese “. . . are moving off/to be their hard sounds/ as their bodies leave the water.” And there’s even more of her stoic isolation in the later parts of the book. What I love about Jensen’s work is how it embraces the solitude of the place, and how the solitude shapes the poems like fog in a mason jar. I’m sad that she hasn’t published a more recent book. Her second book, Memory, was reissued through Carnegie Mellon’s Classic Contemporaries series back in 2006, but that book was written in 1982. Shelter was written in 1985. After that, nothing. A poem here and there in a journal, but no new collections of poems.
Friends of mine in the Seattle area tell me that Laura Jensen is doing fine, and that they’ve seen her walking to the library or browsing at Open Books. I was worried about her. Worried that she might’ve become the geese or the fog that often populate her poems. That somehow, through the intensity of her internal gaze she might’ve found herself transformed into something elemental. I am happy to imagine her walking through the metallic-smelling streets of Tacoma, passing the harbor as boats rub their sides against the docks. I am happy to know that her private temperament seems to have won out, though I am sad because of it. Such vacillations between joy and sorrow are as predictable as the Northwest weather, which makes Jensen’s work just the thing for me.
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