Jennifer Londry. Tatterdemalion. (Chaudiere Books 2015).
Ragged & raging, dilapidated & defiant: some ways of describing Tatterdemalion, a book that seldom stays in place, keeps throwing around what rags of discourse it finds & shapes into the dirty clothing of fragmented story. About a third of the way into this book, ‘House’ lets the reader know that ‘Oval coffee table is innocent,’ but we already should have figured out that nothing else is. ‘Prayer beads’ for example argues that ‘forgiveness is / a toxic conundrum.’ And throughout, it’s clear that whatever the circumstances (Anne Sexton on a drunken cross country joyride with a figure, ‘Patience,’ who keeps cropping up in a number of these poems; the inferred lives-before-death of various people figured in ‘Momento Mori, by Dan Meinwald, and his collection of nineteenth century funerary photographs depicting the dearly departed’; ‘the Black slaves of the Delphine LaLaurie household, the French Quarter, circa 1834’), everything is questionable & ‘Life is not that kind.’
Londry approaches all her materials with a kind of demented & surreal bricolage. Throughout, she keeps readers off balance with fragmentary hints of dark tales, a sense of disjunctive narratives always slipping just beyond the curt lines & sentences whose implications insist the hidden story is possibly in reach & definitely important. As in this bit from ‘What time is it wolf?’, a noirish little summer sequence:
Brisk walk through vodka lamplight
wickedly red entering the Swelter Motel on the edge of town –
out of sorts
The various sections of Tatterdemalion each throw open doors to possible tales of ordinary human horror, but all we are allowed to see are some slyly cut & fitted bits & pieces of whatever whole was there. Londry constructs a form that allows a long prose line that can shift suddenly into short intense ones; her rhythms feel jagged, ragtimey, alert. Tatters, indeed, but darkly brilliant ones.