I first became acquainted with the poetry of Michael Jennings when he graciously gifted me with a copy of his Bone-Songs and Sanctuaries: New and Selected Poems. I found the book a haunting evocation of “place,” of “places” indistinguishable from the human beings, flora, and fauna dependent upon them for their very existence. I found a poet of consummate artistry; a poet who knew early in his career that a “sense of place” was an effective tool for making manifest the universal human quest for finding meaning in existence and expression for the painful, inevitable yearning inherent in that existence.
In River Time, Jennings succeeds once again in conveying to his reader the relevance not only of “place” in a literal sense but of “place” as a realm of spiritual, historical, and cultural realization and fulfillment. Beginning his journey in the East Texas of his early childhood where he “keeps seeing a muddy, sometimes sun-baked road,” he travels to Bandera, as close to “the leathery heart of Texas” as he would get, and on to the Alamo in San Antonio where he ponders not only the mythological status of “heroes” many Texans revere but also their seldom referenced and more historically accurate status as “thieves of territory.” Later poems transport the reader to the southwestern deserts of Iran and the author’s current home in Upstate New York.
The long and masterfully executed poem near the end of the collection, “Winter Light,” demonstrates, in phrase after phrase, Jennings’s uncanny ability to render the essence of “place” with unforgettable power and precision. He writes of “pale winter light, listening”; of “the sky sluicing down into slumbrous bodies”; of “blood-soaked stone aching to be light”; and “the dark of sparks and fireflies.” The reader will return to the remarkable poems of this collection time and time again: for the sheer beauty of language, for reflection, and for what it means to be a human being in a transitory, terror-filled, yet exquisitely beautiful world.
Larry D. Thomas
Member, Texas Institute of Letters
2008 Texas Poet Laureate