Waterborne by Janet Joyner
"In this extraordinary first book of poems by Janet Joyner, I find two equally powerful but distinct voices. First the voice of water, the rivers, the swamps, the earth, the voices of the primitive, remarkable people of that world—like Ma Caulder and Anna Greene. And then the second voice, refined, educated, feminist, the voices of women in history neglected and never credited for their work, the voices of lesbians and gays and the victims of racial prejudice and war. Janet Joyner, in these powerful, musically sensuous poems, reaches into our innermost hearts; and as a result we are, I think, both deeper and more honest than we were before."
—Anthony S. Abbott, author of The Angel Dialogues and If Words Could Save Us, recipient of North Carolina Award for Literature
"A poet at home with lyric and narrative, myth and history, quantum mechanics and cell biology, Janet Joyner places us solidly in the physical world, most notably among rivers she knew growing up in low-country South Carolina. Harmonies in the non-human world sit side by side with disharmonies in the human—the brutal treatment gay men and women have often suffered in a country whose citizens were promised that 'equal is an algorithm of free.' Joyner’s poems are political in the deepest sense; her emphasis on what we have in common as creatures—boy, girl, woman, man, heron, finch: 'this purple, one finch/ who shares with me/ what unfolds between/ the dark parentheses.'"
—Becky Gould Gibson, author of Heading Home, Need-Fire, and Aphrodite’s Daughter
"Janet Joyner’s varied poems include lyrical descriptions of the natural world and draw deft portraits of people and the complicated connections between us. Waterborne is threaded with vivid images and insights. Sometimes they are splendid, such as fallen leaves in such a mass/it seemed the sky had turned sea/and spilled the sun at our feet; sometimes wry, as when the wife of God, begins by saying, 'I could have told you it would end/this way,' and ends by suggesting that God Give the grasses another chance; and sometimes tragic, as in her extraordinary poem, 'What the Egg Knows,' showing us the kid hung on a fence/post to watch dawn die over Laramie, how he is no different from you or me, like any creature swimming or striding/in search of his bliss."
—Ellen Bass, author of Like a Beggar; The Human Line, and Mules of Love
Winner of the 2015 Holland prize, these are poems that speak authentically of life in a time and a place, poems that resurrect the often unacknowledged. They move us as all earned voice does, and thereby transcend the particular. Water runs through the poems of Waterborne, Joyner’s first collection, and becomes the symbol for the exhilarating flow of life and time. To be alive means to be caught up in “the pulses of the universe” for which the poem provides “a momentary purchase.” Philosophical reflections are wound with story; portraits of a place’s people, of unlettered women living along the river are set beside those of women who made major discoveries in archaeology, biology and oceanography. Testimony of deep dichotomies is at work here.
Janet Joyner grew up in Marion, South Carolina. The town sits in a region of midland and coastal plains crisscrossed by rivers and streams. These rivers, many still known by the names of natives, were the first avenues inland for colonial ancestors who left their names to her childhood playmates and their places—towns, counties, rivers. Place and name, the currency of belonging, are essential to the poet’s encounter with the world.
Professor of French Language and Literature at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts until her retirement in 1994, Joyner is the winner of the Poetry Society of South Carolina’s 2010 Dubose and Dorothy Heyward Poetry Prize. Her poems have won distinctions in Bay Leaves of the North Carolina Poetry Council, and Flying South ’14, and her “Cicadas Thrumming” was anthologized in The Southern Poetry Anthology: volume vii: North Carolina (2015). Her short stories have appeared in The Crescent Review and Flying South. She is the translator of Le Dieu désarmé, by Luc-François Dumas. This is her first collection of poems.