Fleda Brown Jackson,
The Devil's Child
(Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1999)

Fleda Brown Jackson is masterful in casting her poet's eye on human relations, seeing how we establish connections with each other.

Her early work is marked by her carefully crafted observations on the domestic interactions of her own family: a boat ride with her niece, a swim with an old aunt, or the memory of her father taking her retarded brother sailing.

In the poem "Birth Facts," she attempts to re-craft an intimacy in a strained relationship with her mother: "I am looking for a way we can talk / so I think of a question I've never / asked and ask it: how was I born?" But the poet is unsatisfied: "She tells it as if she had long since / left that body and come here, away / from everything."

In her new book, The Devil's Child, Jackson takes on a subject that is markedly different from her earlier works. It's a dark, unsettling narrative of the wounding and subsequent healing of a damaged child through compassion. The process of a catharsis is painfully slow and full of anguish for the reader in this study of good and evil, but Jackson does not judge; rather, she points out what is human in this darkness.

The book's subject, a woman with multiple personalities, was based on a true, contemporary case. Various personalities of the woman speak in the poems, as do a priest and Jackson herself. The poems are based on the woman's recorded therapy sessions as well as Jackson's personal interviews with her.

In the foreword to this book, W.D. Snodgrass writes, "I trust I've made it clear how highly I regard these poems. To take a character whom most would think either deranged or so deeply damaged as to be irreparable and instead to see her involvement with the broader range of humanity seems to me a splendid achievement."

The Devil's Child is Jackson's third collection. Her first collection of poems, Fishing With Blood, won the Great Lakes Colleges Association of New Writers Award. "Her themes of human inter-relatedness and of the past's hold upon us are presented with deep, though controlled, emotion," the award reads.

Her second collection, Do Not Peel the Birches, was chosen by Gerald Stern as the winner of the Verna Emery Prize from Purdue University Press. Jackson's poems have appeared in the publications Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review and Georgia Review. She has collaborated with artists and musicians on projects, including publishing an art book of poems and images with Norman Sasowsky and providing her poems as the text for several prize-winning musical compositions performed at Eastman School of Music and Yale University.

[ by Daina Savage ]



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