Conjuring the literature of the desert, such as If There Were Anywhere But Desert by Edmond Jabès, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, and Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin, Jami Macarty’s The Minuses beckons attention to ecological and feminist issues and the co-incidence of eating disorders, sexual harassment, family and intimate partner violence, homelessness, suicide, environmental destruction, and other forms of endangerment. Seeking escape from relationship, belief, and self, multi-perspective survivors claim voice as contemplators of natural splendors, and as seekers of incarnate desires. These voices amplify the precariousness that predicates women's lives and the natural world, laying bare the struggle and faith required to endure with integrity and spirit intact.
Jami Macarty's poetry book, "The Minuses,” offers a realistic yet poetic world to wonder and learn within. Many of her poems are environmental place poems set in the Sonoran Desert, Arizona. In the poems and in footnotes she highlights environmental damage, or minuses. Her poems encompass much loss, grief, and violence.
In the opening section title poem (The Minuses) she writes, “the minuses count the ways” this is a direct notice to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem “How Do I Love Thee, let me count the ways.” Immediately we are placed in the world of love, with all love entails: loss, separation, abuse, and grief.
In the third poem in the book, “Two-Way,” there is a dialogue in the first section showing relationship and brings love and trust between the sexes into the foreground:
“Isn’t the desert verdant he says after rain
Clouds gain and feather white Sky absolute blue
Until a raven flew through
I feel a smallness in my chest he says My life is missing something
She looks at the clouds revealing and obscuring the missing thing
There’s something missing in me she says the sky is entire summa summarum
He says I am not ready to separate myself from my life”
In observing this couple, with lines like these we feel distance. Then in the poem, “By Virtue of And” the lines:
“at a time it’s impossible to determine
the moment of separation:”
There are poems that stand out separate from the desert poems, one of my favorites takes place in a NY subway, being a Native New Yorker this poem is visceral and brings me back to what it was like in a crowded train with groping hands; a poem about anorexia, another about No’easter storms, and one that addresses suicide is braided with great whales. These poems show the hazards of abuse and her connection to other places.
In the back of the book are footnotes. These ensure you get the many minus messages in her poems; all the terrible losses we impose on each other and on natural life. Jami is specific and through in each revelation. She uses succinct words to convey loss and pain and how we do harm. I learned much about deserts reading the footnotes; and many facts about endangered species: shrimp trawling kills 150,000 sea turtles annually; and steel leg-hold traps are banned most places but not in Canada. She makes sure that we know the “US Department of Human Services reported between 22 and 57 percent of all homeless women report domestic violence as the proximal cause of their homelessness.”
These are the kinds of big issues I appreciate poets taking on and Jami is skilled. I look forward to reading more of her work.
Jami Macarty's first full-length collection, The Minuses, is a stirring and prescient excavation of identity, environment, and the necessity for creation in times of strife.
What jumps out is Macarty's masterful attention to detail--lines and images that strike and reverberate. For example, in "Logic of Opposites," a landscape is described: "Under fraction of crooking stamens: remnant sea, limestone strata. // Asphalt accelerates the day shift toward rainbow's double blues" (23). Here, the juxtaposition of natural and human-made clashes creating a moment of pause and view of discordance, before a powerful note: "Isolation's invention: any ruin-song taken far enough / includes its contraries" (23).
Macarty's poetics practices a searching aesthetic. However, this "searching" is not so much concerned with a final answer, rather it is predicated on experiencing each detail to its fullest. In "Without Is Guide," the speaker states, "This is no love song // We live as an image," and further, "My skin outward like intercepting leaves // Without is guide // The will-not gesture cultivates their lips // I am not telling a story" (45). Fragmented thoughts mix with fractured terrain to create a stunning look at meaning-making and the myriad thought processes experienced in negotiating the various troubles one experiences in life.
Macarty touches upon sexual harassment, family and partner violence, homelessness, suicide, environmental destruction and other forms of troubling experiences. She handles these diverse and dark topics unlike any other contemporary poet. The Minuses is a text that simultaneously welcomes the reader while also demanding attention. It is a stunning book that only grows with each subsequent reading.
The Minuses is visionary: “Called abruptly to my knees,” says Macarty, “I sent myself into the desert to become a third person.”
Macarty’s poetic voice incorporates opposites, as both spiritual and physical, figurative and literal. A person is “A burning fragment // in the menagerie of the surviving world ...” These are almost devotional poems, happening at an intersection between ecology and spirit: “From what depth, the whales surface, puncture // a new hemisphere, gray embryos curled : in the mothers’ wombs // an equation // : indivisible // : by both man and beast ...”
Much of The Minuses occurs in the desert. Objects materialize out of that bleakness; archetypes fuse into our minds: “The present is all to know of the known // This wind speed at right angles to the mountains incinerates the dirt road // Dust devils the quotient of wounding words on the memory board // A lightning-scorched tree: one thin limb curled inward ...”
“Reverse of Shadow,” like many poems in The Minuses, creates an impossible space, allowing for delicious contradictions: “Why are we not in the dark the secret room learning to be tender / Music plays whether we dance or not / Whether a light is on or off / Do I know when to turn my back on what I previously trusted / Shade is not meant to hide but to illuminate the other ...”
This is a wonderful book. Macarty’s poems – spiraling, digressive, trance-like, musical – remind me of William Carlos Williams’ Paterson. That joy in beauty, and awareness of darkness. That expansiveness.
Rich, lyrical poetry. Macarty has put together a collection of blistering poems with a softer side as well. The cover sums up the contents: a bright patch of footing in a stormy darkness, as in these lines from "Reverse of Shadow":
"Music plays whether we dance or not
Whether a light is on or off
Do I know when to turn my back on what I previously trusted
Shade is not meant to hide but to illuminate the other"
The reader is, at times, left not knowing what to feel. This uncertainty is powerful, forcing genuine and unexpected moments of epiphany, emotion, hope, and doubt.
This book is so magical, so honest, so fresh. I'll dig into it a few more times for sure, and it will be one of those I return to in the years to come. Jami Macarty ought to feel so proud of their writing. There wasn't a place where I found myself kind of rushing through, or my mind wandering. Simply an amazing book.
The poems are lyrical and crafted with precision. The title is prophetic during this time. Rereading it and am blown away with a new perspective! Love It! Share it with someone struggling through the gaps--they will return to Macarty's poems again and again. So glad I got it, not knowing it would resonate through the noise of a pandemic.
To read a poem in Jami Macarty's spare and incisive collection, The Minuses, is to open a museum drawer and gaze on the precise specimen within. Here the poet has disposed of feathers and flesh to give us the mysteries that remain: the desert-scoured artifacts of nature, memory, absence, and love.
Here is a collection of poems for anyone desiring to penetrate the hidden connections within all agonies environmental, emotional and physical. In The Minuses, Macarty proves no corporeality is free from betrayal, alienation, and decay. In distilled, diamond-cut lines, the poet thrusts the reader through phantoms containing nexus points of possession and loss: "The café customer mutters a body part and a man’s name/plastic lids startle/ the floor’s scuffed wood/a man comes in/a man goes out/a window captures/ the one looking in" The constant sheering away of façade via intensely focused and tactile language reveals an ocean of empathy for the pain often entombed in sealed-off monoliths we carry alone and in secret. A truly transcendent work that freezes the dance of predator and prey to examine how both are ourselves, our hopes and our world. With ever-fresh music and syntax, The Minuses require only a glance for the reader to be fully immersed. A stunning book that reminds us in our times of drought that "At this hour any god is rain."