Looming (Elixir Press, 2015) is the first full-length collection of poetry written by Jennifer Franklin. Franklin previously released one smaller collection of poetry in a chapbook called Persephone’s Ransom in 2011. Her work has also appeared in numerous literary magazines and journals, including New England Review, Boston Review, Pequod, and Antioch Review. She currently works as co-editor for Slapering Hol Press, and teaches poetry workshops. Upon opening Looming, it immediately becomes clear what this book of poetry revolves around. The dedication page stands out:
for my daughter, Anna
Indeed, this whole book revolves around Franklin’s relationships with these two women who she holds dear. Or in the case of her mother, held dear. The poetry in this book looks at loss and struggles one faces in life. Often the poems are deeply personal, while others pull back and look at relationships between mother and daughter relationships as a whole. Franklin uses the Greek goddess and mother Demeter, as well as her daughter Persephone to speak of motherhood.
“Looming: Spring” is the first of four poems sharing the title of the book, with the other seasonal poems spread throughout the collection. They speak of time spent alone in reflection, while looming by the window. Yet the poem “My Pompeii” also stood out to me as a title-piece:
In wooden shoes, moved rooms so often,
There was no corner unransacked by my desire.
My parents warned me that tragedy was
Looming. Inevitable as passion or the rain.
When word came to leave, I could not detach
Myself from the fluted columns that saved me.
A shadowy form hovers and looms overhead, full of the pain, loss, responsibility of a mother. The poetry in this book lets you feel this mother’s aches as she deals with the difficulties she has faced. When the narrator speaks about her daughter, a reader must be ready to let in the uncomfortable pain of a mother. In Greek mythology, Persephone is taken away from her mother by Hades. Franklin draws the comparison between her pain and that of Demeter in this situation. But in the case of Franklin, the loss of her daughter comes from her struggle with autism, rather than captivity. “My Daughter’s Body” stands out as a prime example of the pain shown in this book:
If you saw her, you would think she was beautiful.
Strangers stop me on the street to say it.
If they talk to her, they see that beauty means
Nothing. Their sight shifts to pigeons on the sidewalk.
Their eye contact becomes as poor as hers. They
Slip away with varying degrees of grace. I never
Know how much to say to explain the heartbreak.
As her smile sears me, I hold her hand all the way
It is as if the narrator is feeling the pain of loss even though she still has her daughter; she is not fully there with her. I cannot say this collection of poems is a masterpiece. Yet, there is elegant language in these pages. The book was well written, full of rich language and insistent imagery. I felt the writer’s sorrow, and I appreciated the connection of mother to myth. The issue I had was that the connection to myth was better in concept than in practice. The mythological ideas were what intrigued me about the poetry, yet the poems that focused on Demeter and Persephone did not stand out. Still, using so few words, Franklin is able to share years of distilled emotion. This book shows us pain, with brutal honesty.