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Fauna

Written by Arlene McKanic for Caribbean Life on no date provided

Showing Tina Spiro's ""Dawn over Seville"", which depicts a raptor gliding above a lush and misty landscape, even the cover of Jacqueline Bishop's slender book of poetry is beautiful. The poems inside are just as beautiful, evocative and dreamlike, addressing the poet's memories of life in Jamaica and New York.

As with all good Caribbean writers, Bishop uses ripe and sensuous language. She writes in the acknowledgement that she worked on her poems with poet Sharon Olds, a writer whose work often slips between excessive and frankly repellent, but none of this shows up in Bishop's work. Her poems are both powerful and tasteful, even when the subject matter is difficult, as in ""The Smell of Mangos"", a poem about incest which begins with deceptive sweetness (""There is a large oakwood bed / in the center of the room made up with pink and white ruffles."") but ends in a sudden darkness.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One deals with such memories, as well as meditations, of her native land. Even with the painful subject matter, their effect is calming. In Part Two, the very trees and flowers are allowed to speak, mostly in the voices of women. Some of them are flamboyant, of course, as in ""Ixora"". 

Alongside the shameless ixora are the Love Bush, the anthurium, the oleander, the periwinkle, and the canna lily (""always in a fabulous red dress""). The last poem in the section, ""Calabash"", is even in the shape of a gourd, seemingly a simple description (""This tree grows to a height of about thirty feet. The branches are long and form a spreading habit ...""), but of course, it's more than that.

Some of the poems in Part Three deal with art, and the section begins with ""The Raft of the Medusa"", dedicated to Peter Homitzky. The Medusa, if the writer recalls, was a ship that was wrecked off the coast of Senegal in 1816, and some of its survivors were the subject of a painting by Theodore Gericault.

Her poem ""Carnage"", for Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, celebrates a different kind of art. Maathai is the lady who founded 'the Green Belt Movement to reforest much of Kenya, and the poem is about the relentless felling of trees, and the despoiling of the environment. (""How we eat ourselves alive -- roots, limbs leaves;/our blood, and the body which is bark""). Though the last poem in the collection is about a trip to the Metropolitan Museum to see a Van Gogh exhibit, and how the poet's biographer will remember and write about that trip a century from now, there are also poems here about women, about Lilith and Joan of Arc, mothers and granddaughters and great grandmothers whose daughters would ""come asking questions"".

All in all, ""Fauna"" is an outstanding, collection of poetry.

This is a review of Fauna

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