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Fauna

Written by Jim Hannan (Le Moyne College) for World Literature Today on no date provided

In her poetic debut in book form, Jacqueline Bishop reproduces voices and visions of Jamaica’s past, but she avoids the illusory comforts of nostalgia by recognizing that her access to the past is altered and incomplete: 'And who is to say / I am remembering it right . . . after. . . after . . . / God knows how many years! / There was no islandparadise; or perhaps there was.' Because she represents memory as a problem to be explored rather than a certainty to be privileged, Bishop can turn cliché -- Jamaica as 'island-paradise' -- into a moment of private and public reflection. Likewise, while the voices of her ancestors often inspire her, Bishop creates a complex family portrait that includes absence and injury. Fully capitalizing on the incomplete quality of the 'snapshot', one
speaker says that her 'father is the man / who is always / at the edge / of the photograph; the man who is never / looking straight at the camera.' And with unsettling directness, Bishop writes about incest and the complicit role played by the speaker’s mother: 'She taught me . . . to forgive my grandfather / and take it. She taught me that this was what it meant / to be a woman.' As these excerpts suggest, Bishop unobtrusively makes form reinforce content, using short lines to achieve the effect of the snapshot and longer lines and enjambment for weightier revelations.

Often writing in a lean, direct style, Bishop is at her most imaginative in the second section of the book, in which she uses characteristics associated with tropical flora to reflect concisely upon a variety of social relations: 'Don’t you know the names / They call you? / Flame-of-the-Wood, Jungle Flame, Jungle Geranium. / Come back / from living by yourself / at the edge of the woods.' Here Bishop’s poems have less to do with memory and more to do with the intricacies of power that structure women’s daily lives. In these poems, women, like plants, don’t always cooperate with the forces of cultivation and containment. Bishop’s imagery and metaphor ensure that her dedication
to strong, independent women draws upon imaginative identification rather than overt exposition.
'My daughter cannot understand / my love of moist places -- out in the wild -- / and why I could never / spend my life in any of the now-popular public parks, / or, like her, in someone’s private garden.'

Compassionate and insightful, Jacqueline Bishop writes poems that are both intimately personal and richly committed to Jamaica’s human and natural history.

This is a review of Fauna

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