The Dream of Reason Jenny George

2 posts

Writing While Reading: A Healthy Habit


When I read poetry books, I often keep an open notebook beside me so I can copy down a few words or lines that teach me the craft of good poetry. It’s better than highlighting a book, because the act of handwriting gives the brain a better work-out than mere coloring.

Yes, the words are out of context, but this is a supplementary-type exercise. Make no mistake—I reread poems that speak to me many times over. But I also like the warm-up activity of just rereading a few wondrous words working wonderfully together.

What does that look like? As I just finished Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason, I’ll wrap up with my third and final post devoted to this book by sharing examples from her book—a few Jenny George gems. Even out of context they shine!


a small lie has flowered between them

Each day the same
scandal–this body.
These teeth and hands.

Briefly the trees hold the light in their arms.

then winter came
enclosed the lake in glass, and sealed
the dark cavern of our questions

The earth’s low vapors burning into light–
air shimmering with insects.

like the moon’s unlit side,
the side without grammar

the dark is full of purring moths

the bat…a leather change purse
moving across the floor boards

Another morning: raw sun on the snow
…the sun burning a white hole in the sky

I stuffed their ears with the wooly sound of sleep.

The fields are wrung dry
and laid out like a flag.

At night the stars fall from their Bethlehems…

Their hides growling and prehistoric,
fed on the rich darkness

The small stones of their hooves in the stony field

These tiny people, thoughts thrumming like mice.

A quick net of starlings
drops to the furrows.

My tooth was loose, a snag in the clam of my mouth

A jay made a hole in the air with its cry

In the sky a cloud goes on naming and unnaming itself.


Often it’s as simple as an unusual word pairing that works—the stuff good poetry is made of. Reading a journal of notes like this before writing your own poetry limbers the creative cranium nicely. You need to think of everyday things in unusual ways, after all. Or so it says in the job description of a poet.

Maybe the habit’s a foolish thing, a “hobgoblin” (forgive me, Mr. Emerson) of this little mind. But I like it. So there it is.

Happy Hump Day, friends!

Poetry in Strange Places (e.g. a Farm or Abattoir)


Last week, via her poetry column in the New York Times’ Magazine, Rita Dove introduced me to the poet Jenny George, who published The Dream of Reason (Copper Canyon Press) just last year.

Being the sort to pass along good news when I read it, I shared George’s poem “One-Way Gate” on these pages—a poignant piece about cattle being taken away for slaughter.

It’s unusual to come across a poet who writes the plight of farm animals raised to become a Quarter Pounder with Cheese at McDonald’s. When I got my hands on Jenny George’s collection a few days ago, I found many more on the theme of dignity for the common cow and pig.

Who speaks for them, after all? And who thinks of poetry as being a vehicle for their voices? Not this guy. Until now, that is.

To supplement last week’s poem, then, here are two more from The Dream of Reason:

“The Sleeping Pig”
by Jenny George

It is easy to love a pig in a nightgown.
See how he sleeps, white flannel
straining his neck at the neckhole.
His body swells and then deflates.
The gown is nothing to be ashamed of, only
the white clay of moonlight smeared
over his hulk, original clothing, the milk
of his loneliness. The flickering candle
of a dream moves his warty eyelids.
All sleeping things are children.

The “nightgown” is a bit confusing until you reach line six, where you realize it is “the white clay of moonlight / smeared over his hulk, original clothing, the milk / of his loneliness.” Then the image pays off. As does the final line, a truism that covers even pigs sleeping in lunar nightgowns.

From the farm we move to the abattoir, which for the small farmer is the farm itself. It’s a strange and still place for a poem. Let’s see how George negotiates the challenge:

by Jenny George

The pig is already dead.
It hangs from the ankle,
slumped as light
through a heavy curtain.
Draped onto the slab.
One ear folded like a lily
under the ample head,
pressed nearly in half,
silent origami.
The other ear,
large as a trumpet flower,
turned open as if to receive
the sound of a distant thing
a train through fall fields,
an insect in forgotten rafters
droning its thin scarves of sound.
The one ear
bent shut, weighted
under the pig’s last greatness.
The other, supple horn,
listens outward, catches
the squeal of the gate hinge.


There are some lovely similes and metaphors here, especially ones related to the dead pig’s ears. And those “thin scarves of sound” — not only a nice metaphor, but a neat sound device!

Most impressive to me, however, is the final line, specifically the word choice of “squeal” — a word associated with pigs — for the sound of the gate’s hinge.

Simple, unassuming, powerful. What poetry does. And in the strangest places, too.