Jennifer Juneau Review by Charles Rammelkamp
More Than Moon by Jennifer Juneau
“More Than Moon”
Is a Rose Press, 2020
$18.00, 84 pages
A third of the poems in Jennifer Juneau’s lyrical new collection of poems are sonnets, those lovely 14-liners made famous by Petrarch and Shakespeare for their theme of romantic love. Love is indeed at the heart of More Than Moon. The moon itself is frequently a symbol of love – and femininity and madness and so much more. The first sonnet, indeed, “Defloration,” a poem about a girl losing her virginity, is addressed to the moon, and it echoes Shakespeare’s celebrated sonnet 18.
Luna, shall I
compare thee to a day?
A summer’s one? A whey-
faced sun bellybloat but spry?
What then? Wayfarer in lunt,
all-girl, marbled pawn.
A pearly Winter sting that pops the raw
red pearl chaliced inside your tight funnel
More than Moon is made up of three sections, whose themes are, loosely, youth, marriage, and romantic love. The very first poem in the collection, “Ten Photographs of Life,” is a sort of précis of all that will follow – baby picture, childhood, wedding, honeymoon, homemaker, future.
But the next poem, “Postmodernism,” clues us in that this is not autobiography so much as a different version of reality (not quite “alternative facts,” but a different way of considering the facts). It’s a poem about a little girl who can’t get to sleep and asks her mother to read her a bedtime fairy tale. She falls asleep and dreams, but not of “the hard-pressed maiden winning the hand / of the prince at the end,” so much as the prince’s lullaby.
She’ll search for that song the rest of her life
and won’t be satisfied until she never finds it.
Get it? “What You Will Remember After 100 Years’ Sleep” turns the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale on its head in similar postmodern fashion. The poem concludes: “Live outside the book and rewrite your own ending. / Sketchy as it may be, it’s yours.” And again, Juneau addresses “that dear O dear lun-lun-lun-A-tic moon.” “Conclusion of the Stone Poet” finishes the first part:
In the end I was anyone’s gimcrack stung
and marginalized by moonflaw.
Spoiler alert: While part two concerns itself with marriage, it doesn’t end happily-ever-after style as the fairy tales do! Not that it’s “grim,” but the connection between the man and woman just doesn’t seem to be there. And there’s the drudgery of motherhood and housekeeping, the constant cleaning. The sonnet, “Conditioning,” is especially touching as the mother, watching her young son in the European schoolyard playground, reflects on the graffiti he traces, while she talks with another parent,
written on a slide: Inge, kann ich nicht ohne dich leben.
His heart is snug within its chamber
not yet broken by that kind of love.
Inge! I cannot live without you! What teenager hasn’t felt that emotion?
Poems in this second section like “A Marriage,” “Mirror Image,” “Distance Lends Enchantment” and “Tell Tale Heart,” which plays on the Poe story, reflect the woman’s disenchantment, her feelings of a lack of personal fulfillment within the marriage. Nobody’s “fault,” but there’s that yearning for something more. “Symphony of Myself,” the penultimate poem in the section, an extended metaphor of song, crystalizes the emotion.
Can someone deck out this moment in a tux?
A long glimmering dress?
Comes a generosity in my state-of-the- art
precinct of flux
as I dispatch notes hired by me.
I am the ovation I crave
Musical chasm I graze and erupt.
The final section is concerned with romantic love, an affair of the heart outside the marriage. Tellingly, fully half of the poems in this part are sonnets. This, too, doesn’t end well – the inevitable heartbreak – but it’s a sweeping travelogue while it lasts. First, though, some things just don’t change. The marriage? “The Past”:
It followed us here from New York.
It coveted our territory like a foot soldier.
It found its way in and out of our mouths
and when we thought we could stave it off with views
of the Alps, or bury it in the redolent hem of forest pine,
distract it with ski slopes and day trips across the border
to historical villages
it kept turning up in our bed.
Restless, the woman has an affair (or affairs?). But these, too, aren’t necessarily the fulfillment she seeks. She has misgivings. In “Next Time We Meet,” she decides that that meeting will be at a restaurant instead of “sex between the cantons / and the sheets.” In “History Lesson” there’s just so much misunderstanding to overcome “On an airtight night driving through Berlin late,” and in the end “I didn’t have all / and all it took to break down your wall.” The man grew up in the GDR, East Germany. In “Rendezvous,” “We met at a seedy bratwurst stand / on the outskirts of Munich,” and already it doesn’t sound like it’s going well. In “Something New” it’s “At a café in Budapest, across the table / you gazed at me over a cold roast goose….”
There are late night phone calls, post-breakup. In “The Next Day” she observes that “you the ex-lover in your spurned ex-love way / insisted our affair be rekindled.” And wouldn’t you know it, here we are back at the teenager’s angst: “Inge, I cannot live without you!” The anguish, the desperation.
As is plain from the passages already cited, Jennifer Juneau loves the sounds of words together. We’ve already heard about being “marginalized by moonflaw”; in “Portrait” she sings “Her elliptical figure was a mill for technique” and “Ambition meanders with subzero hands.” The poems in More Than Moon are a delight to read.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was published last year by FutureCycle Press. Two full-length collections, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books, were published in 2020.