From the Emptying Fullness: Jane Munro’s Blue Sonoma

Sometimes a book needs no introduction. And sometimes a reader fully understands why the writer couldn’t resist. Jane Munro’s newest collection opens with an epigraph that fittingly sets the tone for Blue Sonoma: “When fullness is taken from fullness, / Fullness still remains.” This is an “Invocation to the Isha Upanishad”—which is apt, considering Munro’s affinity for yogic practice. More importantly, the epigraph sets the tone for the delicate and defiant pieces Munro proffers in this volume, most of which center around the deterioration of her husband. With lines like “What he thought was him / were clouds dissolving” and “The times I studied him: / surely, surely he wasn’t empty of himself. Not yet,” it is clear that Munro is dealing with the delicate subject of the downward spiral that is dementia.

The first poem in the book, “Sonoma,” sets the stage:

I am following
the spitting image of him
in that battered Sonoma –

its peeling paint, cracked brake lens,
the slumped driver silhouetted by my lights
only the two of us on the road.

Munro seems to be using the image of this battered truck not only as a catalyst for the poems that follow but also as clear metaphor for her husband—the fading person she knows so well, yet is simultaneously remembering and becoming reacquainted with. There is kindness and gentleness in her poems, as well as evocation and acceptance. There is much to digest. There are dichotomies. Wet eyes and skin tingling may simultaneously occur.

Peppered throughout these poignant, often understated pieces, Munro’s good humour shines through like a surprise beacon before the reader has time to really process the magnitude of what has transpired:

Now this old man has ripened sweetly.
He gazes at me
bemused and happy.

On his way to the sink
he bops the empty coffee pot
on my crown” (“Old Man Vacanas”)

Munro also includes some fascinating dream poems, which function as wonderful complements to the realities she’s facing, and as alternate realities experienced when living through trying or traumatic times. Any art form has the potential to be therapeutic, and I can only assume this body of work is no exception. Most “good” art, however, both comes from a very genuine place and provides just enough framing for response and/or reaction. Munro unquestionably understands this balance and has perfected it over the years..With her Sutra poems, it’s as if Munro created a new rule book for her life with a sort of self-styled scripture which would have been much-needed during the unknowns of her increasingly foreign daily routines as it emptied of all familiar comfort. “The house is dark”:

It’s going to be here when he’s gone.
A sob catches in his throat. He’s trembling.
Again, with the flashlight,
I show him the house. We stand there
silent in the dark, and look
at where we’ve dwelt.


Marilyn Irwin has been published by above/ground press, Arc Poetry Magazine, Bywords, In/Words, and New American Writing, among others.

She has three chapbooks: for when you pick daisies, flicker, and little nothings.

She is currently shaping her first full-length collection.



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