A Field Guide to the Spirits, Jean LeBlanc, Aqueduct Press 2015
The poems in Jean LeBlanc’s A Field Guide to the Spirits cover a range of subjects, opening with mediums and ghosts, dipping into nature and natural sites, famous natural scientists of the 19th century and their family members, and historical figures from even older periods, before returning to the titular poem of the collection.
LeBlanc’s work is not rife with musical device; you will not find sonnet or alliteration here. I found the lack of musical device, usually intended to make a phrase memorable, a bit ironic given that the topics of so many of the poems were things to be remembered or involved remembrances by their speakers.
What LeBlanc’s work gives you is the surprising point of view—be it person or place—and the stunning epiphany.
For example, her “Hope, Hunger, Birds” does indeed trace a trajectory between those three concepts, although not in that order, and begins and ends in such different but related places that you cannot help but feel moved. I loved that the epigraph was by Susan Fenimore Cooper. It’s difficult to pick out just a few lines because it is the context they build together that is striking, but I keep coming back to these:
Like a songbird, my old heart,
still believing it will see another spring, craving
every tender blossom, wanting more.
In these poems, I appreciated the presence of Caroline Herschel, Catherine Barton (Newton’s niece), the unnamed woman describing how the town elders inspected the underwear of a group of women, especially her last snarky, surprising line. There is a lot to learn here; LeBlanc presents vivid portraits that made me, as reader, want to know more in the cases where I did not.
While she may not employ the poet’s arsenal of musical device, LeBlanc certainly understands it. In “Eleven Reasons Not To Marry A Poet,” she writes,
They are enamored of pretty words, but most especially of the saying of pretty words. You must be careful not to believe beyond the final iamb.
Indeed, it is the space beyond that final iamb which LeBlanc’s work explores.