In his latest collection of poems, aptly titled Jane Again, Wayne Clifford revives the voice of Crazy Jane-a persona extracted from a half-dozen poems published by W.B. Yeats. In Yeats’ poems Jane is a neurotic, brusque yet perceptive woman, who is haunted by her past-lover’s ghost and is critical of religious authority. Displaying his deep relationship to Yeats’ text, Clifford has faithfully re-imagined the voice of Jane who has haunted him for years in an attempt to answer the curiosities that she has etched into his memory.
Without fail, Clifford has yet again demonstrated his ability to wield archaic constraints such as the sonnet, villanelle and the ballad. Initially, I asked myself: why is a poet, who’s been published in experimental journals such as ganglia and Blewointment, writing through these outmoded traditions? Clifford addresses this question in the preface when he says “in using these, I’ve had to re-invent the practices of writing them, in today’s cadences, in periods that make immediate 21st century sense to the ordinarily intelligent reader,” and asserting it to be a “truly experimental undertaking.” Although I don’t fully agree with this preempted defence, the use of these constraints is doing something more than being just ‘experimental.’
The book explores a range of themes, including religious authority, the poet and sexuality with humour and profundity.
While reading the book, I constantly returned to the question: Is Jane crazy? The book isn’t entirely sure. The poem titles refer to Jane as either Crazy Jane or Jane, suggesting that this question is one the book is grappling with. To push this uncertainty further there is a conflict presented by filtering a ‘mad woman’s’ musings through the organized structure of a sonnet or villanelle. This same conflict is symbolically embedded in the image of the sea, a subject Jane muses on in 12 poems. Each time, her relationship with the sea changes. Sometimes it’s a place of intimidation and, other times, a space for her to forget. This variance represents her manic disposition. The sea is a space that appears to be chaotic, its surface is always shifting and it’s filled with unknown and mythical entities, such as Leviathan and Lir, both of which are alluded to. Yet the sea has its own order, its own systems of organization, just like the poems. Its a perfect archetype for Jane’s existence like a “mansion/ In the place of excrement,” communicating an enlightened desire for balance, whether its between beauty and ugliness or form and content.
Overall Jane Again is a witty and engrossing book of poems that reinforces Clifford’s already established legacy as a master of poetic form. (Eric Schmaltz)
by Wayne Clifford, $17.95, 84 pgs, Biblioasis, PO Box 92, Emeryville,ON, N0R 1C0