New Book: Intersections by Frances-Marie Coke
A wise and perceptive vision of the human place in the world with satisfying sense of narrative development - a Jamaican woman changing the face of Caribbean poetry.
Idlewild is a place of contradiction for Frances-Marie Coke in her impressive second collection of poems, Intersections. Located deep in rural Jamaica, Idlewild is a place of emotional and psychic shelter for the poet, and becomes, then a place rich with symbolic and mythic meaning, not unlike Lorna Goodison’s Heartease.
In this collection, Coke traces the uncertain paths of childhood and adulthood through a sequence of poems that treat Idlewild as a character, a constant that serves as a reliable touchstone for memory. One is always aware that at the edges of many of the poems of security and pleasant memory are the haunting truths of rupture in family relations, abandonment, loneliness, resentment for the ways of unreliable men, and the challenges of a faith that must be practiced even where things are not hopeful. On such matters, Coke writes with eloquent empathy and profound insight.
A gradual unveiling takes place as the central voice of the poems matures along with her circumstances and her island. Coke is not afraid of nostalgia, but she is never sentimental in her exploration of the past because she is always acutely aware of the present - Jamaica with its poverty, violence, class divides and racial complexities. She writes about these with the same tenderness and sensitivity that she writes about the wide range of people that pass through her world - all marked by the human mix of the heroic and the pathetic.
Frances-Marie Coke comes to us with a well-formed poetic voice, a mature and authoritative command of form and language and a surefooted sense of what makes a poem urgent and timely.
ONE MAN AND HIS DOG
April – my fiftieth year; a Sunday stolen
from our helter-skelter lives in scattered cities,
we stretch out in the sunstreams –
four sisters counting rhinestones in the sand.
From the corners of our eyes we sense
each other’s musings, take slanted glances
at our mother, purse our lips, and swallow
deep – concede the unnamed detail
lurking just behind her eyes. We huddle
in our robes of reminiscence, hiding truth
behind the dance of hope and fear.
A fisherman leaves his prints along the beach,
his dreadlocks glistening droplets
from his daybreak swim across the bay,
his tackle and his dog in tow. An elfin smile
eludes the mask Mama wears these days;
the corners of her mouth slowly upturned,
she stuns us with a bygone song “one man
and his dog went to mow the meadow”,
pointing at the Dread, her eyes locked ahead.
Just then, her face dissolves into a face
owned by another time and place:
1962 – the year of Independence,
when she’d bundled up her pardner draw
with all the other savings to pay down
on her key. How her eyes had shone,
fingering her motorized machine,
quickening her stitches, turning corners,
embroidering the patterns of tomorrow
on curtains for a house that was a home–
Now we watch her turn to face the breakers
rippling into shore, salty water brimming everywhere.