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Close to the Shore Paperback – January, 2003
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About the Author
Jacqueline Marcus attended Sidwell Friends School and studied painting at Juilliard, Washington, D.C. She teaches philosophy at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo and is the editor of the online poetry journal, ForPoetry.com.
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"Jacqueline Marcus's _Close to the Shore_ presents us with a poet whose prodigious talents, uncanny emotional range, and (dare one say it?) profound spiritual sympathies, have opened up a space in the human heart where every thoughtful reader will feel welcome. This is a poet of abundance and wonder, a poet who reminds us that poetry is, in some very elemental way, 'the insistence of Form, / each note, an integration, / each note, a prayer-wheel turning.'" --Sherod Santos, Department of English, University of Missouri
"Jacqueline Marcus's poems have all the suppleness and hesitation of thought itself. They wander through so many dimensions--philosophical, personal, and political--on the way to a condition which, they seem to say, may or may not exist, but which is nevertheless luminous, intelligent, and serene." --John Koethe, Department of philosophy, University of Wisconsin.
I certainly agree with their assessments on this exquisite book of poems!
Jacqueline Marcus's poems are variations on an ancient theme. In the language of metaphor and imagery, the theme begins at the river and ends at the sea. A theme that follows Plato's Allegory of the Cave, the longing to know that which lasts in a world of shadows, the "point of intersection of the timeless / With time...the winter lightning...the music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all."
December sun in the cypress,
climbing the hill of mist,
Haydn's concerto in the background,
illuminating the streets,
the placid cars, the ordinary world
where the sun-tipped pines hold their attention.
And I imagined how inexorably bright he must have felt
when the strings sing above the average house,
like snow in the upper regions of the sky,
how he was able to reach that line of departure,
the contrapunto, the finite,
contrasting the parallel theme of the Absolute,
while I've been driving around the circumference of town,
lost for thirty odd years,
in search of that fixed point,
the Invisible Music.
"Driving into Town with Joseph Franz Haydn"
Marcus's occupation with art influenced her way of "seeing" reality in a painterly way. She "thinks" in images and therefore images are everything to her. Marcus's gift or talent is the ability to express ideas through visions or imagery. Her poems are philosophical meditations, but they're not didactic. In fact, her poems are more rebellious than saintly.
But I don't want to think about
The irredeemable past.
Instead, consider the bright rose,
the choral odes,
In the Paradiso, cruising east-
With everyone else.
We're all heading straight into the tip of the orange sun,
Rounding the curvature of those presently dark hills,
On both sides, white fields,
Dry and waiting in the still-to-be light,
The cars behind me-
Linked to one another,
And to the right of the road-
A row of cypress, motionless, and to the left,
A weathered barn,
Sinking down into the earth's soil with every autumn.
"No Other Heaven"
I think there are times when Marcus is simply trying to evoke the natural world in its most sensual details. Her own philosophical vision is rooted in seeing Beauty in the beautiful, i.e. never at the expense of the particular. It seems to me, whether we are Platonists or not, whether there is something that is lasting or not, we all experience the loneliness of feeling incomplete.
Still, something never fails to call me back
to its Rilkean winds,
its hours before the rain,
eroding the fence,
a shovel, rake, a silver pail, left out for the cat's milk
and the one sad thread of light,
gliding across the wood pile.
You walk out with these aging trees and into the dazzling sun
as if nothing matters,
as if the lies you spent your time rewarding
were the crimes of a petty thief,
ridiculous as a fool's trumpet.
It makes you ashamed, sometimes, to stand in the naked windfall.
"Tank Farm Road"
The poet carries this peculiar burden, this "cross," if you will, the desire to express the inexpressible; yearning for something elsewhere in a world consumed with suffering. I think it is difficult to walk this tightrope between skepticism and faith, and yet, that indomitable conflict is at the very core of our being-without it-we're as good as dead.
It still captivates us-
Giotto's blue sky and leafless tree,
distinct from the burning-
Less clear than a memory, anyway, of failure
and sickness of heart.
The way lovers will imitate the lost summer
the slow rise out of the self,
for the time being,
(fog lamp in the pepper trees,
and all the corners of the fresco.)
But it's hard, sometimes, to settle for anything less.
This a book that you'll want to read over and over again. The images and metaphors are sensual and evocative. Although you can say that Jacqueline Marcus is an "academic poet," having earned her degrees in philosophy and humanities, you will not find the perfectly polished work-shop poems in this collection. By that I mean that she has found her _own_ voice, which is passionate, daring and eloquent.