Anne Harding Woodworth on Jody Bolz

The Near and Far by Jody Bolz. Turning Point Books, 2019.

Jody Bolz has an intuitive understanding of separation and how separation impacts a family, creating distances near and far. Bolz’s eye focuses on the nearness of house and the far-away-ness of home. She looks back at relationships, at events, at incidents in her life that have presented separation. Considering the isolation that so many people have experienced in recent history during the COVID-19 pandemic, one can find solace in, and identify with, Bolz’s lovely lyrical free verse, perhaps even more profoundly than one would have before the virus.

She has divided the book into two sections. The first, “Hindsight,” looks back at various scenes of marriage and familial life. The poems are usually, but not always, in first person—an I who is most likely Bolz herself, and yet there is a universality in the poems that reaches far beyond the speaker’s domestic world.

In this first section, the theme of near and far is carefully laid out, beginning with “Deadfall,” in which driving a car, the speaker has to brake suddenly as a tree falls across the road. But she leaves her reader satisfied that one can turn fearlessly back from disaster, perhaps an unsuccessful marriage.

In “Driving Home in Two Cars,” Bolz portrays a successful marriage and the existential separation inherent in such a union. At the poem’s core, she points out what it is like to be near and far within the family unit. The speaker is in one car following her husband in the other. The couple’s son is in the backseat of the lead car. Their baby girl is in the backseat of the second car, the speaker’s. They are a family, these are their children, and yet there is a palpable divide—husband and wife from each other, child from parent, sibling from sibling, not to mention the two cars that travel separate from each other, especially when a van pulls in between them and the red taillights of the first car are temporarily hidden from the speaker.

Clearly, Bolz finds poetry behind the wheel. “Drive anywhere,” she says, in “Shadow of the Family”:
through the tropics, say,
in central Costa Rica
on unpaved roads,
past hills on fire on purpose,
past schools . . .
And further on in the poem:
Drive out or drive back,
toward or away from some hope,
some place with chances
and you’ll think about
all the homes of all the people
you will never meet
The second section, “The Near and Far,” examines family life, often through the metaphor of the house. There is, in fact, in this section, a poem called “The House Itself,” in which the speaker marvels at how a house once inhabited by strangers becomes the house that is “yours / its stairs and shadows // the doorway of each room.” In this poem, she deftly illustrates just how a house becomes a home.
how quickly it happens
you find a home to settle in
meet neighbors and restore the porch
In the poem “Tableau,” a remembrance of winter nights and the timeless beauty of a fire in the fireplace, Bolz paints a scene of peaceful domesticity, an “image / of a family from another age / the firelight itself unfixed // in time   unfixed in place.” Bolz’s poems of memory maintain an immediacy that transcends the decades. In “Night Sounds,” she contemplates the thirty years the family has been in the same house, remembering her first pregnancy and the infant, “nameless then / a person inside another person / unready for space and light.”

In “Passage”—a word that will take the reader someplace near or far—a parent warmly speaks of the solid family unit and their house, or home, which was “only for children to grow up in.” Bolz describes the upstairs hall, which allowed for their three rooms to be “so close together / that the children could call us / from their beds if they were sick // or scared.” And further,
. . . the kids felt safe
at least they never had to brave

a long dark corridor to find us
and for years we lived that way
within reach of one another.
And then the children leave, which of course is a rite of passage.

Bolz addresses what one can assume to be a spouse in the love poem, “Repairs.” This spouse can repair just about anything that goes wrong with their house. The speaker claims she can’t name many items yet manages to include “copper wire   solder    spackle / hinges    slide-lock    thermostat” in the poem. In a moving confession to her spouse, one might assume she is thinking of her marriage, when she says she has understood “next to nothing”
about heat and light and water
relying on you
to know what’s wrong
and find a way to fix it
relying on you never to break
Bolz’s poetry in The Near and Far is highly lyrical, but there is a narrative poem in this collection that cannot go unmentioned. “Visitation” tells a spine-tingling story about a banging on the door of the narrator-speaker’s house in the middle of the night, when she is alone with her sleeping children. It is a stranger, whom she had seen earlier in the neighborhood. He is ostensibly asking for help and money. The speaker is not sympathetic to his requests because in an instant her maternal instinct kicks in, which is to protect her children from harm. It is a terrifying poem beautifully executed—

As are all the poems in this book. Bolz’s skill in observing and incorporating her observations into poetry that transcends the very words she uses knows no bounds. The Near and Far is a delight, with an underlying gravitas arising from contemporary life and memory. Bolz has produced a superb, highly relevant collection.

Anne Harding Woodworth is the author of six books of poetry with a seventh, Trouble, coming out in late 2020. Besides several appearances in the Innisfree Poetry Journal, her work is published and anthologized in print, as well as digitally, at home and abroad. Her quirky chapbook, The Last Gun, in the voice of the last gun on earth, won the COG Poetry Award, judged by A. Van Jordan. An excerpt from it was subsequently animated at She is a member of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library and on the Board of Governors of the Emily Dickinson Museum.



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