"In Casting Off (2007), motherhood becomes a transforming lens on the world. These poems are not sentimental but keenly aware, and full of wonder, discovery, astonishment, and passionate commitment. 'The child inhabits me / like a whelk the whorls of its shell, / a hidden smile. At some level / I am always intimately / accompanied, like holding a lover’s hand / everywhere I go.'” Poems from Casting Off were featured on National Public Radio's The Writer's Almanac and Poetry Daily.
Click here to order a copy of Casting Off from Parallel Press.
ISBN: 978-1-893311-90-9; paper $10.00
Review of Casting Off by Richard Swanson
Free Verse 95 (2008), pp. 47-48.
Let’s start with this: Catherine Jagoe has enormous talents, among them a wide-ranging intelligence, fine powers of observation, and a deep understanding of poetic craft. All of these are evident in her Casting Off which traces her move from her native homeland to America, a
metaphorical rebirth, and then her experience as a first-time mother, a literal birth. Filling out the chapbook are peripheral pieces related to blending, of people, families, and cultures.
“This Is the Blue,” the book’s opening poem, starts by recounting the author’s spiritual journey from bad circumstances in Britain to a land of hope here, beginning on Cape Cod. America frees her from narrowness and pettiness, a place “Where speech set each apart, / indelibly marked
by class, war, / clan.” In place of that is this country’s expansive opportunity: “Ocean blue, / I couldn’t get enough of you, / trawling the bay six times a day.” The poem’s last half weaves together
the best of Jagoe’s English past with her new life here, via chiaroscuro technique. Cynics might see in this poem a narrator’s wide-eyed naiveté, a glomming onto the romantic’s notion that one can find personal fulfillment just by relocating. Most readers will find instead a delightful wide-eyed wonder, and an immigrant’s robust enthusiasm for the New World.
Most of Casting Off is about birthing and early parenting, and I have to do a small disclosure here: I read a lot of literary chick lit. In this genre a number of women novelists have recently created whiney, self-absorbed new mothers as protagonists, so I feared Casting Off would yield yet-
another sniveling, put-upon mom. What a pleasure then to encounter Jagoe’s joyful world of pregnancy and parenting, created by the author’s sharp eye and use of metaphor:
My contours blue, shift,
My stomach has grown
elbows. I can have hiccups
While these poems are happy, occasionally wry, celebrations of motherhood, frequently the author has multiple purposes in mind. In “Love Set You Going,” she speculates on what kind of young man
her son will become. The scene is a swimming pool where she’s observing teen males, and asking:
Is this the one
you’ll sound like, look like?
…………………………… is that you
out there? Is that
In another work, “Man in a Parking Lot,” she observes: “When you have a son / you start seeing men / backwards, intuiting their childhood / selves . . .” Other poems jump to when her son is older, and the tone is wistful, a recognition that the bonds of mother-son will have to loosen: “you are running / through my hands / like water.”
I mentioned Jagoe’s deep understanding of poetic craft earlier. One of the tenets of a good poem (frequently dismissed by writers and editors alike these days) is that it contain strong lines, memorable in themselves as well as contributing to the overall strength of the poem. Casting Off has
so many of these that it’s an embarrassment of riches. Jagoe also has a canny sense of enjambment and pacing, so her long poems easily sustain interest throughout. Plus, a number of poems are worthy experiments in sprawling typography.
Here’s an interesting irony. In this book with the writer an exemplar of satisfied motherhood, something in Jagoe’s voice is familiar. Yes, you guessed it: that’s a bit of Sylvia Plath playing in the background, the short declarative sentence, worked with repetition and variation.
Good poetry books have a core of focused poems and then others that provide some variety. One such work is “Drafting,” ostensibly about biking but really about what makes a relationship work. It’s one of the loveliest love poems I’ve read in years, and one more reason to buy this outstanding book. Can’t wait to see what Jagoe comes up with next.
Order here to get your copy of Casting Off from Parallel Press.
ISBN: 978-1-893311-90-9; paper $10.00