“I can show you the sunrise,” says Allison Boyd Justus on November 23rd.
As an experiment in poetry, Justus opened a notebook and began to write one particular poem per day, from the winter solstice of 2009 to the winter solstice of 2010. A poem per sunrise, 366 in all.
In the spirit of the experiment, I took it upon myself to review this journal of poems only after reading them in their entirety as close as I could to the manner in which they were composed: One poem per day, at sunrise. While my reading fell beyond shy of reading each poem at sunrise, I did manage one per day, viewing each thought with a different sun.
The first sunrise is personal, universal, observing the objects in proximity to the author and the world at large touched by sunlight. From here we proceed into these thawing vignettes, piercing introspections, and outward observations, “a confrontation, a facing up to existence itself” (Jan 8), the vastness of out there and the immanence of whatever rays pierce the soul. “I’ve come here to know,” she says at Christmas, soon after beginning. Justus is determined to capture for a year the full existence brimming at the dawning of each day, to come full circle with the earth itself around the sun, leaving no daily stone unturned. I took upon the same in my reading.
Justus employs various techniques and forms, mostly free verse untethered by meter or rhyme, as the only meter is the beat of each sun, the only rhyme the same O shape of the star. She gives us alliteration (“darling dawn a dawning,” Dec 23), consonance (“a sunrise is a sadness signed with ecstasy,” Dec 28), and a belt of metaphors (“dawn is a soft, weights, faulted hello” on May 6, and dawn is a gong on May 20).
Some poems are merely a two-word though scribbled and left, others a kind of treatise, like January 28. And some poems appear questionable in weight compared to others—Is this a crafted poem or just a jumble of words scribbled down to fill a requirement? Thus, the author challenges our notions of what a poem should be, or can be. A line or two may at first glance appear like pointless journal entries by a bored mind, but in a secondary reading are minimal and sparse enough to be beautiful if not taken for granted, like much of what we take in with our senses.
The experimental writing echoes that of Thoreau’s attempt to live in the woods for two years. The poem for August 9th is a nod to Thoreau’s own poetic view of time. As with days given to us, not every poem will carry the same weight, be given the same value by those to whom it is given. The preoccupied mind admittedly will see even the sun as a golden calf (June 2). Our journalist braves her creativity in the task of cracking out a poem at every dawn, regardless of how it is rendered, and we are given a bold honesty of language that is as full and diverse as can be in comparison with the object of witness. Part of the challenge is to write even when you have nothing new to say.
Tangerines appear as both motif and likeness. January 5th’s poem is only two words: “frosty tangerine,” purposely ambiguous as we wonder whether she is describing the sun itself in winter, or a cold fruit eaten for breakfast, and why not both? When the seasons cycle back into winter, the tangerine appears “again, torn” (Dec 13).
And every dawn is a hello, every day, as with these poems, a new kind of greeting from the same imperial theme. The appreciation of new thoughts brings the reader an appreciation for knowledge that every morning sky is a different painting, or that each day in the natural world alone brings a different wind of sounds, creatures, weather, instance. Commentaries run along astronomical topics from daylight savings (Nov 9) to the fall equinox (Sept 22), when the year declares it will “go down swinging,” and the leaves will “tell their secret pigments” before dying.
The volume’s inquisitions each include light and darkness, shelter, stillness, seasons, time, and sherbet. This may be the first poet to tread in the paradox that the sun seen as both orange sherbet and plasma. And why not both?
Odd coincidences rear their familiar heads when you read a poem on the same day of the year in which it was composed. On January 30, for instance, the poet shares revelations about the gyrating universe, magnetism, the marvel of eclipse. Justus wrote that she saw geese. On that same day, seven years later, I saw some too.
On December 20 Justus arrives at the final solstice, the morning before consenting to the arrival at a year’s meditation: “Language, too, is a light.” What that means I won’t spoil for you, as if I could, because the author leaves much of the implication to us, inviting us to weave our own metaphors, inferences, and arrivals. Which we might as well do, because dawn is as inevitable and real as ourselves in the universe.
from July 26:
in the quiet tight
blue and dark pocket
and pull out
More than just a personal experiment, Justus compiled her poems to share so that we may “be inspired—be/breathed into./ To choose that which up flits and challenges will drain and exhaust” (Aug 27). As a reader I am moved to preform my own experiment, having lived another 365, a portion of each being given to one poet’s vision, looking for what marvel of nature I can submit my language to. What pleasures will I unearth? What prayers will I utter? What changes will I surrender to, until “I am undone” (Feb 5).
March 8th: “We’ve reached a thin place, come and stand in it.” Even the sparest of words are worth breathing in, even a plain sunrise worthy of witness. At the far edge of the horizon, some great star moves, and does not move, to tell us something. What it tells Allison Boyd Justus became Solstice to Solstice to Solstice, a treasure of secrets, a golden almanac of a year’s worth of relentless obsession. Add it to your collection.