I just got in from a bit of New Year’s forest bathing, and while meandering through the trees I couldn’t stop thinking about the images and characters in Jessica Fordham Kidd’s debut poetry collection, Bad Jamie. Longtime Little Patuxent Review readers may remember Bad Jamie from Kidd’s poem “Ye Gethsemane” in our Summer 2016 issue. It’s been such a joy to read the entire collection—and the full story of Bad Jamie—this week.
Author Kwoya Fagin Maples describes the poems in Bad Jamie as “the truth of a far-away look.” I think it’s a perfect description. The collection, published by Anhinga Press, takes readers on a journey of magical realism that reminded me at times of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and at others of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! The poems follow Bad Jamie himself, but we also learn about the kind of man he is by getting to know the others in his orbit—his brother, his children (those he knows about and the one he does not), his dog, the women who have loved him. In many ways, the women are the heart of the story, at least as much as Bad Jamie himself. More than anything, though, it’s a collection about family, about family wounds and family legacy.
It’s also a collection about place, which is why I kept returning to it while I was in the woods. All of the characters are very connected to the land and the mountains that they inhabit. A strong sense of place infuses many of these poems, both through the characters and through Kidd’s incredible use of imagery. One of my favorite images appears in the poem “Sweet Taste”:
a tiny house
that leaned slightly downhill
as if the valley had something to say
and was whispering it over and over
and the house was just on the cusp of hearing it.
It’s an exquisite description; I can picture the house in my mind’s eye.
That strong sense of place lends all of the characters a strong sense of wildness. In some there’s a defined split—Jamie’s brother has a respectable Town side and a freer, more impulsive Pasture side, for instance. The women in the story morph more fluidly between their human and animal forms, and the human form always retains a bit of that wildness. That hardly does the reading experience justice, though. Through these characters, I too began to feel their reverence for the land. Through them, I too wanted to stretch my paws and let my animal side roam free.
I’ll leave you with the lines that kept up a drumbeat in my head, out there in the woods, thinking about what I wanted to manifest in the coming year. They’re from the poem “Two Tales of Girl Jamie”:
She knows the mountains must see her.
Must hear her. Must be proud that the valley
has at least one girl who doesn’t lie down
while she sends her spells out into the world.