The Spinning Jenny team at Black Dress Press has put forth no lack of effort. The magazine’s cover design, as well as the first few pages, index, and footers, speaks of a literary sense of humor. The editors manage not to take themselves too seriously while also producing a line of beautifully fashioned issues, and issue number twelve is no exception. An equally as well-designed website for the magazine sports past issues and reviews, all of which are positive and a good introduction to a first reading of Spinning Jenny.
At first glance, the pieces in Spinning Jenny might seem a bit too obscure to interpret; they seem frustratingly vague, even. But a second glance, and perhaps a different approach, it is well worth the effort. The poems are a challenge. However, poetry does not always have to be easy. Like a brisk walk after a long day indoors, a bit of active reading allows the reader to warm up and stretch his legs.
“Yes, say there was a . . .” by Andy Nicholson is at first a little awkward to read. There are no sentence breaks or whole ideas. Rather, there are many tiny, fragmented ideas that blend together and carry off, as one, in an expanding direction. This is a poem that can’t be read traditionally. Rather, readers must free themselves of the confines of complete sentences and even complete thoughts. It should be read as though it were spoken aloud, and gently followed. The poem starts with, “Yes, say there was a / way to ware the/ river back.” This poem works in images, and from this point, it is a kind-of reversal of nature. It’s like a written version of a video in reverse, the supposed results of un-doing nature (specifically the land-altering path of water) and of man and his construction. The visual journey ends with a reminder that “there / is no choice now, no.” We cannot reverse time and nature and must live with what’s happened.
“You say promise” by Matt Mauch is similar in that it relies on imagery. This poem is short, and it does have a central idea framed in chilling imagery. It consists of only seven lines, an elaborated metaphor for empty promises. “The recently hatched, featherless / and blind” are the pitiful, doomed promises of the addressee. Though the poem is short and its message simple, it’s striking simply for the skill of the writer and the beauty and accuracy of the images used. Poems like this frequent the more challenging pieces in the issue, as morsels of energy to help the reader along.
Poetry like Spinning Jenny’s is closer to thinking than anything else I’ve read. Once you’ve become accustomed to riding along with the words— to floating along like on a river—your mind becomes clear, and you can watch the words, images, experiences floating by without missing a thing. Relish them. Every now and then there’s a rock to bounce on, a poem like Mauch’s that’s still traditional enough for an easier read. For the most part though, the best way to float is to do just that—float. Spinning Jenny isn’t just about a collection of beautiful and challenging poems—it teaches you a lesson. It’s a packaged, instant guide to better reading and freer thinking. Ingenious. Beautiful.