Nightwood Editions, $18.95
Jamella Hagen, BA’03, MFA’08

Readers often find poetry unsatisfying, with poets’ words too oblique to register and too clever to ring true. In her debut collection, Kerosene, Jamella Hagen soars above these challenges with words of unusual clarity and honesty. Every poem echoes like a slice of life, whether she’s buying a used bicycle on Vancouver’s Dunbar Street, or witnessing violent protests in South America. In “Scenes from Bus Windows (La Paz to Cochabamba, Bolivia),” she writes:

Is this what we wanted, stories
of risk and revolt, the moment gone taut
as the bus slows, as passengers
shout and stand, as we sit silent as pig-children,
noses to the glass?

These poems sparkle with life, describing situations that many of us can relate to, even when we don’t want to. In “Tuesday Morning,” she writes:

Nausea a wave to ride on, a dizzy
rocking. Picture something hollow:
a skull blown clean by the wind, a door
left open in the rain. Wait, that’s not right.

Profound statements abound in Kerosene.  There’s a line referring to death in the episodic “Emma and Rosemary” that says it all: “Rosemary is a silence that everyone hears.” Though feelings flow from memories and experiences, life will always go on.


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