Reviewed by Chelsea Wagenaar
Jasmine Bailey’s debut book of poems, Alexandria, memorializes lost place, lost love, and lost self. The poems are short and lyrical, each a beautiful thing that has been chiseled down to its essentials. The poems talk to myth and history, they travel to other countries, they return to close-by cities. The speaker in these poems has an acute sense of how her own loves play out in a larger literary and mythical scope of lovers. In “Days of Aggressive Geese” she writes, “sometimes you were Dante and sometimes / you were Beatrice.” She understands the intensely personal and painfully collective human experience of loss that makes it both her own and not at all (from “Dreaming in January”: “Nothing new in this. Nothing new ever.”)
Though the poems are infused with loss, they are not loudly elegiac or mournful, nor are they filled with tempests of regret or lamentation. The speaker in these poems has moved beyond mourning and toward wisdom and the confusion of what it is to accept loss. She wants to hold it up, look at it, understand it. The tone is wistful, contemplative, acquiescent. In the first poem, “Archipelago,” Bailey writes,
You have come into and out of my life
like a needle knitting me to the earth.
Here and not here, rising and diving.
[. . .]
Why march down to the road
and travel it? I don’t know. We must accept
To wish to be beautiful is
how it removes you from the world.
Then again, how not to wish for it,
even knowing that, when he turns,
I cannot convince you
there is only one loss,
but I think you will know it.
[. . .]
And I know there’s one loss
travelling the continents
like a glamorous actress.
At each last wonder she can be seen
sipping espresso, looking at nothing.
She fools some people with her sunglasses,
always changing her name.
In these poems, Bailey allows imagination to be the agent that ord