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From the outpost: jim bourey reviews Carol Jennings' The Sustain Pedal, from Cherry Grove

The Sustain Pedal

Poems by Carol Jennings

Published by Cherry Grove Collections 2022

I was prepared to not like this poetry collection. Glancing through the titles of the poems – Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Clairvoyance, Fugue and Counterpoint, Chopin in Exile, and many others in a similar vein – I expected nostalgia and sentiment, poems without edge or modernity. But, as I discover so frequently when I make hasty judgments, I was wrong.

This collection by Carol Jennings is a wonderful gathering of poems about growing, learning life’s limits, aging, loneliness, and love. Many of the pieces have a musical theme, as the collection’s title would suggest. But the musical connections are surprising, not at all what one would suspect from the titles alone. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy moves through a musician’s interpretation of how Beethoven may have composed his work, beginning in his youth, changing – adding – subtracting through the years, with small and subtle references to his biography, until in the finale of the last stanza we are transported to the removal of the Berlin Wall. This is not a heavy-handed poem. It is sparse and clean and without frills. The music of the poem is not Beethoven’s, though that is what is so adeptly described. The music is the poet’s and it is modern and rhythmic and it fits the language of the piece.

Many of the poems reach into a broad musical catalog but they bring along stories of personal experience, life-defining moments like the mental illness of the author’s grandmother, incidents of growth, and gained insights told without self-pity or cloying sentimentality. The musical theme sometimes acts as a catalyst that allows a story to evolve. At other times the music is a metaphorical device, but it never overwhelms the clarity of the emotion or incident being examined. There are contrasts and there is an underlying complexity. But the poems reach the reader in many ways, quietly and with a strong emotional pull. This is a skilled and insightful poet, and this is a fine collection to add to your reading list.

jim bourey is a poet with a lot of life experience, which is to say he’s old. His first book, a chapbook called Silence, Interrupted was published by The Broadkill River Press and was selected as best book of verse by the Delaware Press Writers Association in 2015. His second collection called The Distance Between Us was published by Cold River Press in 2020. And he is co-author, with Linda Blaskey, of Season of Harvest from

Pond Road Press, 2022. His next collection will be released in Spring, 2023. He and his wife Linda reside on the edge of the Adirondacks in NY State, though they do find a few months of refuge in Delaware during the deep winter.

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