The daughter of sharecroppers and raised on a small farm near the Carolinas? border, Judy Jordan in her first poetry collection transforms the harshness of her youth with the beauty, inventiveness, and musicality of language. Physical and emotional privation, familial violence, racial enmity, and recurrent death haunt Carolina Ghost Woods, which is set amid the lush landscape of the South and enfolds the wildness?inclement and consoling by turns?of nature and agriculture. Jordan, though, reveals compassion as well as passion for her subject matter and the people in her poems, creating lines of hope and chords of ecstatic energy out of despair: ?Yet another attempt to find what the guidebooks can?t say / in this place smelling green-walnut bitter / and drifting up at each kicked leaf: / something that promises we will go on.? Expansive, ambitious, risk-taking, these narrative-lyrics?often elegiac?engage the timeless subjects of absence and distance, using metaphor in a way that surprises the reader to a different level of awareness, ?like the years / that have paused to rub their furred mouths against my leg and pass on.? An extraordinary rendering of the mystery, heat, and closeness of the undisclosed, Carolina Ghost Woods offers a poetry of witness that does not sacrifice the aesthetics of language and rhythm: ?Here I bring my sorrows / like the delft-blue mussel shells, / fingertip tiny, most beautiful when strewn wide with loss.?
This collection, her first, left me wanting more sometimes, but there were still many "whoa" moments. I've read parts of her follow-up, Sixty-Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance, and loved it. I look forward to reading it straight through.