a review of
All the Daylight Hours
by Amanda Jernigan
Cormorant Books Inc., 2013
Boil a cup of tea, grab your favourite slippers and sit by the fire. You’re about to read Amanda Jernigan’s All the Daylight Hours (Cormorant Books Inc, 2013). However, don’t get too comfortable, Jernigan takes the reader on an epic journey where mythology, fairy tales and literary theory are your trusty companions.
Divided into four parts, the first two sections rely heavily on mythopoetics. However, the literary and Biblical references take a rest in the last two sections of the book. Here, the reader is invited into a more intimate setting with the speaker. Jernigan explores themes of marriage and pregnancy in a way that would make Ezra Pound proud. She has managed to make these old themes feel fresh. In her poem, “Encounter,” she likens the speaker’s ultrasound image to that of a globe, “I felt myself grow small, the air grow thin, /as if you were the one adrift in space, /and you the one who might yet pull me in” (88). Although there are countless poems about pregnancy and birth in existence, Jernigan manages to bring to the reader—a new experience in utero. Strangely, if the book had opened with the last two sections instead, the reader’s experience would have been completely different. It is almost as if Jernigan takes a save the best for last approach (remember: this is a journey, and a journey has its challenging moments).
In the first half of the book, Jernigan oscillates between time and space, from the modern, internal world of the speaker; yet, she transports us into a century beyond memory. Shakespeare, Wyatt, Lear, even Perrault are invoked, while Greek Mythology is sprinkled throughout the book. In her poem “Writ,” Jernigan’s honest first line leads the reader to Perrault’s tale, The Fairies. Even though she explains the premise succinctly, I had to re-read the tale for myself. Revisiting this tale is where I truly gathered the depth of Jernigan’s poem in relation to the “you” of the poem:
As no one knew you so well as you, perhaps,
who struggled to pronounce as if your own
the spring, till roses tumbled from your lips
(O fret not after beauty – I have none)
so actual they stained your handkerchief (38).
This is not the only poem where I took the opportunity to look up the references. When I did, it was worth every extra minute spent. It broadens the reader’s perspective and the ultimate reward is the poem’s profundities. Perhaps this book could be read as a “choose your own adventure,” instead of reading it from start to finish. It would give the reader a better perspective of the variety Jernigan is capable of. As Jernigan writes in “Memoir,” “I thought about a narrow road. /At length it stretched before me. / I travelled it, unravelled it: it seemed to ravel from me” (20). This is ultimately where Jernigan takes us. All the Daylight Hours is nothing short of a quest for the reader, with a satisfying return, leaving us different than before.
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