Review of Blue Sonoma
From Hilary Turner , Event, Winter 2014/2015

Blue Sonoma by Jane Munro

The poet’s ability to gather many things under one roof is evident … in Jane Munro’s Blue Sonoma, a title that itself points to the possibility of incongruous combinations. At once a place, a GM truck, and (possibly) a Miwok allusion to the moon, the word ‘Sonoma’ exemplifies the way our experiences form layers with a randomness that teases the mind. Thankfully, Munro feels no urge to explicate; she is a poet, not a pedant—and also something of a mystic, indebted here to the meditative texts of Hinduism. Her spare syntax and precise diction exude a blend of wonder at, and acceptance of, the uncompromising weirdness of what is. Like those wooden dolls of graduated sizes that nest inside one another, everything in the universe is inside everything else:

incomprehensibly
all this is, all that is
itself
translated over and over
present at any address

Munro’s composure in the face of the unexplainable is most evident in ‘Dream Poems,’ a sequence in which the propensity of life to confuse categories and juxtapose such things as places, trucks and moons is exaggerated, but only slightly. In a dream that would have almost anyone waking up in gales of laughter, the speaker is on a bus going over the Lions Gate Bridge. She makes a bed for herself on the rear seat, noticing a bucket of water in the aisle:

and floating in it
a doll’s fancy dress, no more
than twelve inches long. It seemed
that someone was inside, but, no—
it was only a dress. A lanky man
ogled it and smacked his lips.
What have we here?

A tolerance for the absurd is obviously no liability when confronting the dementia of one’s lifelong partner. A grouping of 11 poems, the heart of this book, depicts the gradually contracting mental landscape of ‘the old man’ to whom the speaker is married. Her observations are stoical and precise, and her preparations for the inevitable (‘Tell me, can a soul / fatten up for winter?’) are incisively contrasted with his benign obliviousness:

He’s been wearing out old thoughts—
holes now in plenty.
Fewer in his drawers.
And he’s not keen on new ones.

I am gnawing through myself.

Does such steadiness in the presence of cacophony bring rewards? In a final section titled ‘Sutra,’ Munro implies that it does, or, if not rewards, compensations. One of these is a kind of aesthetic symmetry. Likening herself to an arbutus whose dead wood is merely the freight of many cycles of renewal, she admires ‘How gracefully the tree / holds up these swords / among its branches.’ Another consolation is peace of mind: ‘No expectations, no losses.’ Finally, there is comfort in the notion that the world will continue without us:

Can my mind unlearn
anxiety? Attend to
what is—and what will
continue to be here long after
my mind?

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