Love is Not Anonymous by Jan Wood
Reviewed by David R. Pitt
Love is Not Anonymous. Thistledown Press, 2015.
Jan Wood’s first volume is dedicated to love and, of the fifty-three poems, twenty-four deal overtly with romantic love and/or sexual desire. A number of reviews for Love is Not Anonymous describe it as a work dealing primarily with the Christian femininity, and biblical femininity, and though this is not true for most of these poems, four of them do deal with women of scripture. For example, “Mary, a Woman” casts Mary Magdelene as a disciple on the fringe of the group who “does not desire equality but freedom / to celebrate her differences” (35). These poems reveal a great deal about what the female speakers think of their own femininity, and therefore contain value for readers interested in gender roles and identity imagined in a Biblical setting.
Wood seems unafraid to discuss faith as there are a great number of religious verses in Love is Not Anonymous. Her religious poems are usually peppered with allusions to the New Testament, and while these are not always her strongest poems, they include some rewarding works like “Temptations” and “just as you are in me I am in you”. The former poem is particularly interesting as a representation of three temptations of Christ where the protagonist succumbs to each enticement—giving this story a particularly realistic and relatable outcome. This poem ends with the question, “what love does not enslave[?]” (41) as the speaker ponders the parallel binding effects of both love and sin. Love insinuates itself into most of Wood’s religious verse, usually in its amorous form. She has a tendency to write about the Lord with the language of lovers, as in the poem “just saying” which contains her highly idiosyncratic lines,
some discoveries about you hurt
but being lovers we can shift
to a more comfortable position (42)
The use of romantic intimacy to describe the closeness of a personal relationship with the divine is not new of course, but the conceit does effectively demonstrate how someone can have a playful relationship with God that is serious and sincere.
Wood’s best work in this collection tends to be her secular poetry—especially her erotic verse. “Entirety” is about the wholeness two lovers achieve in sex, with their
tongues tracing places
in words (49)
This image showcases her talent for writing sex, but she is equally good at writing sexual tension, having a knack for sexy snippets whether it is “red leaping from a slit in a satin skirt” (58) or when the “Wind shifts, lifts a skirt / and the buttery madness of suntan makes sense” (24). She has a good sense of the sensual and corporal, though her preference for bodily fluids in poems like “odds not in my favour” and “Through Evolution and Accident” do not always help this aspect of her verse. The latter poem has a speaker that describes herself as “a container” that has emitted “water, blood, semen, babies”, deliberately uncomfortable lines, though not out of place in poetry of the body (62).
Wood’s writing in Love is Not Anonymous is not particularly musical; her verse is more Apollonian than Dionysian, flowing from the head rather than directly from the heart. At her best, though, she is quite capable of integrating an extended metaphor and syncing it with the impact of the poem. For example, “Fundamental States of Matter” is a well-made work in which two lovers are transfigured from liquid to solid to gas while making love, beginning by melting with affection, followed by their mutual hardening with excitment and ending when they “lose all / shape and volume” (37) at the peak of climax. This journey through three states of matter creatively captures the abandon of sex through a metaphor of transformation, while the lovers simultaneously embody the four classical elements of water, earth, wind and fire: her words to her lover are “aqueous” before the two become “Solid as quartz” in their amourous fervour. The two “fight for air” under their sheets until finally they “rise out of fire refined / surprised to be alive” (37). This inventive touch has love transcending the modern model of states of matter as well as an ancient one, as if this passion stood outside of time. If clever conceits like these are what you love in poetry, then this Love is Not Anonymous has much to offer.
David R. Pitt was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and currently lives in Montreal with his beautiful wife. He is an English MA student at McGill University, his main areas being Early Modern English literature and Milton studies.