CUTBANK REVIEWS: "Pelvis with Distance" by Jessica Jacobs

Pelvis with Distance by Jessica Jacobs

Review by Eve Kenneally

Jessica Jacobs’ debut poetry collection from White Pine Press, Pelvis with Distance, is a series of persona poems paying homage to the art and correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe. Jacobs literally inhabits O’Keefe’s space by relocating to the farm where she lived the last years of her life (which she reflects on throughout the “In the Canyon” series of poems). The book is divided into four sections and includes an extensive list of notes and corresponding pictures on Jacobs’ website so the reader can get a complete sense of the aesthetic involved. Jacobs writes poems focusing on O’Keeffe (in particular, her marriage) and Jacobs’ own experiences immersing herself in the artist’s work.

Throughout the collection, Jacobs uses some lovely language – lush and sonically strong. For example, in “Red Barn in Wheatfield”, she writes: “until I couldn’t help but turn / pebbles on my tongue. Burr of silt. Their shapes / still bloom behind my tight-shut teeth” (20).

Additionally, my favorite series of poems was “Sent”, which were adapted from letters written to and from O’Keeffe – in “Sent June 6, 1917” she ends with “You see I never quite get enough of a perfect thing – ”. In “Early Abstraction”, Jacobs inhabits the voice of O’Keeffe writing to her husband: “I wish I could tell you / what I’ve wanted to say. Instead, here’s this drawing” (25). In “Alfred Stieglitz at 291 (First Encounter)", Jacobs writes, “No, these are not / a joke; yes, they are art” (21). Jacobs writing as O’Keeffe is lively, energetic, and wry.

However, I found the title to be overstating O’Keeffe’s presence in these poems, and felt similarly about parts of the “In the Canyon” series – for example, the line “You are the only home I’ve ever known” (105) lacked the subtlety and delicacy present in the other work in the collection. The fourth section also has a couple of poems ending with rhyme, which I didn’t think fit in with the scheme of the rest of the collection. Alternatively, I would love to see Jacobs play more with disjointed syntax, like she does in “Lake George, 1922”: “His mother lurks a doorway” (47). It’s lovely and surprising and a particular strength I hope Jacobs will revisit in her next collection.

About the Author:
Jessica Jacobs is the author of Pelvis with Distance, a biography-in-poems of the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, published by White Pine Press in April 2015. This debut collection is a current finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards and a nominee for the American Library Association’s Over the Rainbow book list. Jacobs holds an M.F.A. from Purdue University, where she served as the Editor-in-Chief of Sycamore Review, and a B.A. from Smith College. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared widely in publications including Beloit Poetry Journal, The Missouri Review, Rattle, The Oxford American, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock climbing instructor, bartender, editor, and professor. Jessica is now serving as faculty at Writing Workshops in Greece, Sewanee Young Writers Conference, and as the 2016 Hendrix-Murphy Writer-in-Residence at Hendrix College in Conway, AR. She lives in Little Rock with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.

About the Reviewer:
Eve Kenneally is a poet from outside Boston by way of DC, where she got a BA in English from George Washington University and minored in creative writing/avoiding drunken conversations about the state of the government. Right now, she writes a lot about mermaids, dead girls, and pop culture. She likes poems that are strange and surprising (a less eloquent way of saying this is, "She likes poems that make her feel like she's been punched in the stomach").