Jane Springer has taken her game to a higher level in her second book of poetry, MURDER Ballad. While her first work, Dear Blackbird, introduced us to the magical southern locales that were the fertile ground of her poems, MURDER Ballad begins to delve into secrets that lie deeper in the heart. The South still serves as her favored setting, but the emotional histories of love, desire, regret, and hope in the landscape of the heart come to the foreground of action in this volume. As always, the diversity of her poem structures create evocative rhythms against which the harmonies and dissonances of her language are reflected in the emotional continuum. Masterpieces abound, like “You Want Fair? The Fair Comes in the Fall,” “Hindsight Ballad: I’d Go Back & Fix Me, If I Was My Own Daughter,” and “Deepfreeze at the House of Boo–Who Told Me to Meet Her at 6 O’Clock so She Could Beat Me Up for Trying to Steal Her Boyfriend.” Here is one of my favorites, “Pretty Polly”:
Who made the banjo sad & wrong?
Who made the luckless girl & hell bound boy?
Who made the ballad? The one, I mean,
where lovers gallop down mountain brush as though in love–
where hooves break ground to blood earth scent.
Who gave the boy swift words to woo the girl from home
& the girl too pretty to leave alone? He locks one arm
beneath her breasts as they ride–maybe her apron comes
undone & falls to a ditch of black-eyed susans. Maybe
she dreams the clouds are so much flour spilt on heaven’s table.
I’ve run the dark county of the heart this music comes from–but
I don’t know where to hammer-on or to drop a thumb to the
haunted string that sets the story straight: All night Willie’s dug
on Polly’s grave with a silver spade & every creek they cross
makes one last splash. Though flocks of swallows loom–the one
hung in cedar now will score the girl’s last thrill. Tell
me, why do I love this sawmill-tunes melancholy song
& thud of knuckles darkening the banjo face?
Tell me how to erase the ancient, violent beauty
in the devil of not loving what we love.
This book is first-rate in every way.