“How will you spend / your courage, how // will you spend your life.” – Jane Mead


photo courtesy of Alice James Books 

Through the collection World of Made and Unmade, poet Jane Mead examines death and the relationship between a mother and daughter during the last and most intimate moments of the mother’s life. While the speaker takes us through a series of short poems that weave together topics of grief and dying, these poems are in no way self-pitying. They surprise readers with touches of well timed humor, and offer a face to the controversy regarding immigration between the U.S and Mexico. World of Made and Unmade takes place at a family vineyard, where Mead’s lyricism and imagery offers readers a pause from the stark imagery of the dying mother.

Balanced with the light humor that makes this collection so personal, the haunting nature of Mead’s imagery makes World of Made and Unmade deeply touching.  In one poem, hospice requests to interview the mother, but the mother says “I’m deaf and I’m blind and I’m not / answering any more questions” (17). The poem ends with the speaker amusingly admitting that “the patient exaggerates.” In another poem, the tumor on the mother’s liver looks as if “there was a plank // and a grapefruit under the covers” (22). Mead’s collection is honest in its depiction of the relationships surrounding the mother. It does not try to dramatize death, but rather shows us the frustrations of trying to care for a dying loved one, the intimate moments of our speaker’s grief, and our never-ending yearning for love. I love the lines “I want to press my body / all along her body – / hold her damp back to me” (34).

There is so much bravery in World of Made in Unmade. There is strength in its vulnerability, and it is blunt in its depiction of the U.S’s failure to acknowledge Mexican refugees and immigrants: “viva viva viva. Mexico // is a house on fire. // Miedo en todas partes. / Fear everywhere” (33). Mead’s poems are a reminder that the world is constantly making and unmaking itself. The ebb and flow of love and pain exist within the most personal relationships we inhabit.

Buy World of Made and Unmade here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Alice James Books: “Alice James Books is named after the sister of the famous philosopher William James and novelist Henry James, Alice James. She lived a largely confined and isolated life. The youngest of five children, she never married and lived with her parents until their deaths. Although her four brothers were broadly educated in the US and Europe, Alice’s education was haphazard, reflecting her father’s belief   that “The very virtue of woman… disqualifies her for all didactic dignity. Learning and wisdom do not become her.” Keenly self-aware, she started a journal in 1889, as a way of recording her own understanding of herself. She entrusted it to her friend Katherine Loring, shortly before her death in 1892, of breast cancer. Loring sent copies to her brother Henry and other family members. In 1943 it was published, in incomplete form, by a niece, who called it Alice James: Her Brothers — Her Journal. Not until 1964 was the journal published in its entirety. Alice James has since become somewhat of a feminist icon, in recognition of her struggle for self-expression within the repressive Victorian notion of femininity.” *

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