Jen Tynes’ The End of Rude Handles

Red Morning Press (ISBN # 0-9764439-1-0); 57 pages. $12.00.


      One of the greatest pleasures in poetry is when a poet can, within a single volume, emply a broad range of forms, and do it well. Such is Jen Tynes’s accomplishment in The End of Rude Handles, a book-length poem, which is graciously divided into readily digestible portions. That is, you can just open it and enjoy it, it isn’t a book that has to be read from beginning to end.

      The poem is arranged in five sections, the first four of which, generally speaking, feature a titled poem in stanzas on the recto page, and a field-like arrangement of italicized phrases on the facing page. The format proves to be wonderful in its flexibility.

For instance, the poem “It Is Now Among Adults” speaks beautifully:

In a quart
of strawberries buried
some frogs […]

Do you think this
is sound. Often
nesting them
I begin to feel
a crepuscular
machinery give

This notion of the crepuscular, a word I’ve only ever associated with clouds and god-like-ness, and the successful suggestiveness of Tynes’s syntax, (suggestive because I don’t know exactly what is buried, the frogs or the strawberries; I am thankful for this ambiguity) creates new a variety of possible meaning among otherwise usual words.

The phrases facing these lines include ” Daniel Boone Church ” and ” Below Bristol ,” and though it is not clear exactly how they may or may not relate to the preceding lines, the uncertainty makes for a wonderful interruption, a cleansing of the palette before moving on to the next poem. The italics, perhaps only because of convention, suggest a kind of alternative history, a fragmentary list-making.

These italicized nouns show that to say something you need only name it, and in this light present a visual, mental, and aural departure from the style of the poems on the recto   pages. The italicized text becomes capitalized: ” WE ADOPTED / THE INSPIRING PRINCIPLE” (31) and sometimes un-italicized “OBJECTS LEFT ON THE CARPORT TO DRY BLACKBERRY BUCKETS ONE PIECE BATHING SUITS. . .” (33). Here, Tynes typographically directs the sentiments of her lines. The field poems also come to rely more heavily on prepositions, stringing things together as they develop, and I enjoy the insecurity I have over whether or not I’m being duped by the author’s stylistic changes.

The final section of the book, its only non-numbered section, is called “Ways of Contrariness,” a title especially fitting to its form. A three and a half page prose poem, this piece accomplishes the tremendous feat of tying together the rest of the book, despite   or perhaps because of its format and colloquial voice. The change in voice introduces a complimentary, faster pace, well-suited to the subject of collage. Tynes writes of the collage of quilts and the varying collages of language, both written and spoken. The speaker declares her intentions, “I’m trying here to manage two things: always maintain a constant and a variable, make them both get up and walk around sometimes” (55) and claims responsibility for her words: ” All the italics are mine. ” She admits she’s “partial to stealing the heavy, charged parts of things that wouldn’t walk off by themselves” and suggests what those heavy parts are:

“The journals that farmers’ wives used to keep in appointment books are often given away for nothing at junk stores and rummage sales because there is no blank space left to fill. I like to read how many inches it rained” (56).

This affection for mundane, personal and historical details reminds us of the careful and generous attention of this speaker.

Upon reading and rereading Tynes’s spectacular final section, I wondered for a moment if it would have been better placed by the beginning, as an introduction of sorts, to the rest of the poem. But it became clear that this sort of declaration is more effective after the reader becomes intimate with a poem. Tynes writes: “another way to talk about collage: I’m constantly having a conversation with the person across the field” (57). And the good thing Jen Tynes has showed us is that the field is not so big at all.  

Amanda Nadelberg (© 2007)