Verle Jean’s Poems from a Gypsy Heart touches on everything from the worries of a mother as her son goes off to war to the “thimble note” of a sparrow flitting by a window.
A compendium of more than 600 lyric, mostly free-verse poems, the collection features pieces largely ruminative and spiritual in tone. They are accompanied by 32 appealing, pencil-sketched illustrations. Many focus on nature, such as this lovely piece titled “weather”: “i like to wrestle with the weather/ dripping roof and cloud in sky/ wind on branch and leaves that fly/ across the street like children rush/ and from the breath of field and grain/ smell the fragrance of the rain.”
The author is adept at original image-making, exemplified by lines like “The moon is a ball of yarn/spun on the busy fingers of night”; “Birds beaded the electric line/ together they resembled a//Giant necklace”; and “the wind is shuffling/ in little brown shoes.” Most of the poems incorporate concrete details, allowing readers to experience the poetic scene through their senses.
The collection is not without issues, however. Sometimes Jean’s poems veer toward telling rather than showing (“How little our lives count after we are gone./ Live that every hour yields response, for none will last beyond the grave”). They can also turn trite in their sentiments, delivering light rather than literary verse, (“oh what a whirl/ having a baby/ bet its [sic] a girl”).
The volume’s size—ten times the length of a standard poetry collection and double the length of most collected works and poetry anthologies—is also an impediment. The book would be improved by the deletion of poems that fall short of the high aesthetic bar set by poems like “weather,” “monterey pine,” and “Bird Haiku.” Additionally, section breaks and sub-headings would make the offerings more organized and less daunting.
Nonetheless, readers will find many lovely moments in this collection, which speaks to universal experiences in fresh, engaging ways.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.