Jude Neale’s ninth book of poetry, The River Answers, is a beautiful testament to the human spirit, the delicate relationships we form with friends and family, and our finding the humanness in one another when things go awry. Her language is evocative, drawing our attention beyond the obvious while at the same time asking us to stay with her in moments that are heartfelt and seemingly ordinary. An accomplished opera singer in another life, it is no surprise to find her words become lyrical rhythms beating out the essence we all are searching for in these difficult times.
Whether writing about family or the effects of the pandemic or the devastating aftermath of the destruction of a Palestinian hospital, Neale weaves her thoughts and feelings into tightly woven tapestries, a picture at a time. She invites us into her grandmother’s world through the lens of an adoring child, yet the language is anything but infantile. In her poem “The River Answers,” Neale explains, “I would pin your memory / to the river, Nana, / to make you stay.” An explanation? A Confession? The beginning of a beautiful dialogue between Neale and her reader as she explains her purpose, dreams, desires and ultimately path as “the river remembers, [her] standing behind [Nana], / following [Nana’s] life like a map.”
And so the journey begins as we weave in and out of story, sometimes thought and time as well.
Neale’s writing is a visceral journey in which we delight in the language she so carefully crafts into scenes played out in kitchens, gardens, riverbanks. In the poem, “Change,” Neale’s short but powerful lines—for example, “It reflects back / to the obsidian sky / the silhouette / of the orchid, / that is me,”—move us through each experience as though each one is the most important. We find repeated throughout rich similes and metaphor, building into a crescendo of personified emotions, such as in the poem “The Beautiful Truth of You,” where we find the agony, grief and then ultimately recovery of a mother and her son: “The sky never blinks. // She just witnesses / the fine threads leading me / to the beautiful truth of you.
A small complaint? Perhaps giving one more thought and page to Trump, but then it is a sign of the times we are in as she reminds us in her poem “You Are Wrong Again” when she says, “We shout at our TVs / And turn you off.” Neale captures what most of us don’t want to admit to—how caught up in the whole affair we had become. We aren’t left here long as Neale returns to the quiet moments of family, and the tenderness of what it means to be seen.
There is something here for everyone to hold and you don’t have to look too far or hard, but you will want to read this book over again to be reminded of the gems it gives.
Bonnie Nish is Executive Director of Word Vancouver and Pandora’s Collective Outreach Society. Bonnie has a Masters in Arts Education from Simon Fraser University and a PhD in Language and Literacy Education from UBC. Bonnie is also a faculty member at the Vancouver Expressive Arts Therapy School. She is author of the poetry book Love and Bones, editor of Concussion and Mild TBI: Not Just Another Headline and co-authored Cantata in Two Voices.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.