Monday, May 8, 2017

Poet Jessica Jacobs and her chapbook "In Whatever Light Left To Us" - poems about acceptance of self and love for wife /poet Nickole Brown . . .

Chris Rice Cooper 

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.  

Chapbook by Jessica Jacobs:
In Whatever Light Left To Us
“Ecstasy of the Natural In Love and In War”

*This is an analysis of Christal Rice Cooper's interpretation of In Whatever Light Left To Us  

**Jessica Jacbos quotes from an interview between Cooper and Jacobs are italicized within the analysis. 

       In September 2016 Sibling Rivalry Press ( published the poetry chapbook In Whatever Light Left To Us by Jessica Jacobs.  The cover art The Bracelet is attributed to Carol Bennett (; the author photograph to Lily Darragh (; and the cover design to Seth Pennington (   

                      Carol Bennett             Lily Darragh              Seth Pennington        

       Most of the poems center on the relationship Jacobs has with her wife, poet Nickole Brown (  “We met in December of 2007, just after Nickole’s first book, Sister, came out. I was living in New York and she was there to give a few readings. We ended up at the same terrible party in the East Village, staffed by bartenders-in-training. During the very long wait for drinks, amid the crowd of close-cropped New York women clad all in black, a beautiful blonde in a white tank top with Dietrich-red lip- stick made room for me at the bar. She told me she was a poet and had a reading the next night (I groaned inwardly, imagining a potentially wonderful thing about to be ruined by sub-par poetry). But I went to the reading anyway, heard Nick’s haunting, strikingly honest poems, and was lost. After a lengthy correspondence, we spent six years apart as friends—a separation that thankfully ended in 2013.”

                     Jessica Feb. 2008      Nickole 2007
                                Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs 

       The poems In Whatever Light Left To Us were written between 2013 (“In a Thicket of Body-Bent Grass”) to 2015 (“Curly, My Tangler.”). 

Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs 

While Jacobs was teaching her final semester as Writer-In-Residence in Hendrix College (, she gave a poetry reading of these poems.  Sibling Rivalry Press ( publishers and close friends Seth Pennington and Bryan Borland were in the audience, and they were impressed with her work. 

A few days later, they said they’d be happy to publish a chapbook of those poems while I sent out the full-length to be considered by various presses. I have such admiration for them—as poets, publishers, and people—and am honored to be a part of the Sibling Rivalry Press family (”

                    Sibling Rivalry Press Facebook Logo 

       In Whatever Light Left To Us Jessica Jacobs experiences things that can only be described in a short sentence:  ecstasy of the natural.  

                              Jessica- copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

       And these poems are packed full of metaphors and descriptive words on nature habitat (damp earth, field, fire, forest, hill, lake silt, ponds, rivers, rocks, sky, soil, tide, translucent trails, white water mountains, waves); animal and insect life (beaks, bees, box turtles, clam shells, deer, fawn, gulls, nests, ravens, robins, spittlebug nest, swallows, tire-splayed birds, white ants); plant life (birches, blueberries, branches, crab grass, dahlias, hackberry, koi, oat grass, orange rinds, peonies, pines, poplars, redwoods, roots, stems; and anything dealing with the female body:  tongue, flesh, skin, bone, and sweat.

                                               Public Domain Photos 
                                Photoshopped by Chris Rice Cooper 

       In Whatever Light Left To Us reads like a short story in poetry:  the speaker of the poem recognizes her attraction for the female sex at the early age of seven. 

                                 Jessica age 7
                                              Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

By age 13 she discovers her own body – all of its femaleness.  She has appreciation and sexual attraction to the female body, which she finds just as natural as saying the grass is green, the sky is blue, and milk comes from cows. 

Jessica age 14.  Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs 

       She soon recognizes her body’s natural God given talent to dance in the form of hiking, long distance running, and long distance bicycling which she does in solitude. This solitude guides her to accept her own self and who she is, which includes being gay.

Jessica Jacobs and NIckole Brown from left to right, Bryan Borland,  Laura-Anne Vosselaar (the sole witness at Jessica/Nickole's wedding),   and Seth Pennington. 

She finds poetry and then find her soul-mate poet Nickole Brown.  And all of these discoveries are natural, organic, nothing to be ashamed of, and something that is meant to be until her wife Brown faces a possible health scare (depicted in the poems "When Your Surgeon Brought Snapshots to the Waiting Room" and "Post-Op, Still Out of It, You said, I Would") and that is one darkness that she refuses to allow to enter into their light. 

       In ““There Ain’t Nothing Like Breck for Stop n’ Stare Hair” the speaker of the poem at the age of seven is fighting the attraction she has to the women in the shampoo ads.

         Prell.  Breck.  So many ways to

get your hair glossy.  So much skin
just off-screen.

I tried to keep myself from wanting
to see. 

       In “13 Birthday and Something Said to Wake Early” the speaker of the poem is in Longwood, Florida standing on a dock where she observes the beauty of one alligator slowly raising its head, breaking the water’s surface.

        At its touch, carp leapt attacking minnows, each splash triggering
a band of explosions, ripples shattering against the dock.
And there I was hovering

above a lake now boiling with fish.  Herons made their long-necked dives.  And me
in that body, newly teenager, my legs and underarms freshly clear cut, razed
by razor blade, naked to the day.  Breasts heavy and foreign as a knapsack.  Desire

just as weighted – an insistent pull in my gut, flush in my chest.  I wanted to be
anywhere else, I wanted to be, suddenly with

                              Public Domain Photos
                                         Photoshopped by Chris Rice Cooper 

Perhaps this scene is not a scene of violence or a feeding frenzy or something to be ashamed or afraid of – it is simply alligator and fish doing what they are born to do – participating in a dance that is as natural as a man making love to a woman, woman making love to a woman. 
The speaker of the poem associates the odors of the pond, the alligator, the fish and the dance they participate in to the odors of her own body, the female body. 

         The brine and swell of them, the splintered smell as I lay my cheek

to the boards, new stink from my armpits, which I had not yet learned
to mask, musk from the panties I’d dreamt in – a smell I could not yet
name, the warm of it, the sweet sour ache of a body, opening.

Marlene Dietrich kisses a woman in the film MOROCCO, 1930

       In “Sex, Suddenly, Everywhere” she fears rejection and discrimination from others for simply being gay.  She becomes depressed, and finds relief from her depression by exhibiting her God-given talents her body possess - running.  

                          My body cried out for armor.  Big boned,

broad shouldered, I was built for it:  forced into a dress without shoulder pads,
I was the 80s’ littlest linebacker.  So I began to run, clanking

like a tank around cul-de-sacs.  Began to climb, building biceps
strong enough to stiff-arm the world away.  Even my heart grew
heavy, grew into one more thing to carry.

                                         Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

It is in this communing of body to self and self to nature she enters a natural world of wonder with insect life (black and red lovebugs in “Sex Ed”); animal life (magpies in “Though We Made Love in the Afternoons”) and plant life (red dahlias in “Post-Op, Still Out of It, You Said, I Would”).  And most of this communing is while she is running or bicycling and in solitude.

                     Basket of Dahlias.  Attributed to Henri Fantin-Latour
                    Public Domain 

       In “And That’s How I Almost Died of Foolishness in a Beautiful Florida” Jacobs continues to run mostly in solitude – late at night where there is more imagery of the alligators symbolizing water traps:

Nights, I ran golf courses whose water traps
shone red, with the eyes of alligators and rang
with their falsely innocuous chorus
of chirps.

This time the term alligators doesn’t symbolize nature but something that is unnatural – a force that is doing its best in preventing her to acknowledge that she is gay, leading her to feel despair almost to the point where she considers suicide.

                         Why I spent all day
staring at the lake, wading shoreline
where gators found their daily shade, thinking
it wouldn’t be that bad, really,
couldn’t be much worse than this
to offer myself to those jaws, those
daggered rows of teeth.

However this interpretation is not what Jacobs intended in her writing.  In a Facebook interview Jacobs writes:  “Though you’re definitely free to interpret these poems as you like, the poem is really imagining how I might have felt if I’d made the choice to stay in Florida and not live an authentic life. In my actual life, I was fortunate to never reach the point of feeling suicidal and was able to leave home for the more liberal environment of college.”

       Instead Jacobs presses on and works in a variety of career fields:  rock climbing instructor, bartender, editor, professor, and poet.

                           Jessica rock climbing.  Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs.

       It is in “Out of Windfields” that she moves to Indiana to discover poetry, and to attend graduate school at Purdue University. 

                     Grid by grid,
dutifully, I logged my miles, the hours

on my feet, but kept track of nothing
so much as my loneliness.

                                Jessica Jacobs attributed to Lily Darragh
                                               Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

       She believes if she can find poetry she will be able to be like the majestic turbines, which she describes as animals – its metal covering just a façade over flesh and blood.
majestic, amphibious animals in their proper
element.  Able to arc into the unseeable and return

with power. 

       But Jessica is unable to be a turbine despite trying for three years until she meets Brown, who is more than a poet, lover, but the creative god.
                                        a turbine’s
red light  pulsed its beacon through the rain.  Beneath it

your hands bound me back together.  In answering
prayer, I folded myself into the footwell; knelt

between your knees.  And my mouth
to you was every water

I’d ever tasted:

The first automatically operated wind turbine, built in Cleveland in 1887 by Charles F. Brush. It was 60 feet (18 m) tall, weighed 4 tons (3.6 metric tonnes) and powered a 12 kW generator with a photo of Jessica and Nickole at their wedding.  Public Domain and copyright by Jessica Jacobs.  Photoshopped by Chris Rice Cooper.

       Majority of the poems are love poems to her wife Brown and the love poems are universal and individual, the most compelling and emotional for Jacobs to write was   “A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon is Over.”

                            Jessica and Nickole.  Copyright by Jessica Jacobs. 

       “It is a poem about a failure of action that made me question the kind of person I was when no one was looking.  Halfway through writing the marriage poems, I was reading a journal I’d kept after first moving to Little Rock and found this incident, which I’d forgotten (or possibly blocked out). With only minor tweaks and the addition of line breaks, this poem is directly from those pages—a very rare experience for me. Honestly, the hardest part of the whole writing process was reading this to Nickole for the first time.”

                     I hadn’t been passed
by a car for miles.  Figuring
if it was still there, I’d
pick it up on the way back, I cycled past.

                         Photo attributed to Chris Rice Cooper
                               Copyright granted by Chris Rice Cooper 
       At first most readers might think In Whatever Light Left To Us is just a love story between the speaker of the poem Jacobs and Brown, but it is so much more.  It is the love story of life and the naturalness of that life and the willingness to accept what the natural origin of that life is; even when there are obstacles preventing us from doing this – and these obstacles can be people unwilling to recognize the power of romantic true love between two women.  More importantly it is the power of love at war against anything trying to harm Jacobs, Brown, or their relationship.  It is no longer an “I” but a “we” and it is no longer a love story but a story of war:  the power of love conquering anything that tries to destroy whatever light is left to them.                     

                                                       But, love, the sun has lived
barely half its life. There’s time.  It’s taken half of mine to learn
the only way to make anything matter
is to have you there
               to witness it.

--Excerpt, “In a Thicket of Body-Bent Grass”

                                Jessica and Nickole on their wedding day. 
                                Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs. 

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