Following her very well-received Fauna, Jacqueline Bishop’s Snapshots from Istanbul is another leap forward in terms of developing an assured signature voice and extending the range of her subject matter. At one level, the collection has the intimacy of the confessional - recorded with self-reflexive frankness and good humour - but this is grounded within the structure of other narratives and voices that create a counterpoint of dialogue in which the lyric ‘I’ is only one point of reference. Framing the collection are poems that explore the lives of the exiled Roman poet Ovid, and the journeying painter Gaugin. Between their differing reasons for departure and between the invented Ovid’s changing perceptions of what exile means, Bishop locates her own explorations of where home might be. Like Gaugin, Bishop is driven by the need to discover one’s necessity and do it; but as a woman she also has room to wonder about those abandoned by such quests.
At the heart of the collection is a sequence of powerfully sensuous poems about a doomed relationship in Istanbul, touching in its honesty and, as in the best poems about other places, vivid in its portrayal of the otherness, highly conscious of the layers of difference, and aware that the poems’ true subject is the uprooted self. Here, inevitably, Bishop is forced to think about her Americanness and her Jamaicanness in different ways.
There is one constant: the drive to rearrange words, which is both about and is the act of the rearranging of self.