Forge is a book of extraordinarily beautiful poems. The book appears suspended—even the print floating just off the page. Reading it or even thinking about it, I have a strong sense of being physically slowed down, of holding my breath. It is not only Zwicky’s subject matter and imagery, but her exact and meticulous poetics. […]
(How Poems Work, July 2004)
Jan Zwicky’s beautiful “Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115” is constructed as a series of propositions. Each stanza begins with a gentle precept: “That we shall not forget…”, “And, though…”, “That the mind’s light…” and “That a letter…”. Taken as whole, the repetition of propositions becomes entreaty, and entreaty underpins that which I think is the thematic and tonal thrust of this poem: a call for optimism and beauty in the face of a wider reality.
What I love most about this poem is that it talks about ideals (honour, truth, grace, honesty and love) through an allusion to classical music, a medium (certainly in Brahms’ case) where we can easily imagine those qualities residing. And artfully, the qualities above exist in the poem without being listed as a set of nouns, rather they are presented in other contexts: as a verb (“to honour brown”), an adjective (“we will not grow more graceful, / but less”) as adverb (“honestly”) and as predicate (“beloved”)….