As a contemporary poet, Anna Journey is perhaps one of the lesser known ones, though that does not mean that her poetry deserves any less recognition. Her debut poetry collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting was selected by Thomas Lux in 2008 as one of the five poetry collections to be sponsored by the National Poetry Series for publication that year. It is a collection that is constructed tightly, filled with immensely provocative writing, and powerful in terms of subject matter—traits that can be safely associated with Journey’s style due to their continued prominence in her following collection of poetry, Vulgar Remedies. However, those traits are not all the reasons why Anna Journey is one of the few 20th century poets that I like. It is the combination of her individualistic diction along with the vivid imagery she weaves into her poems, and her seemingly effortless usage of phonaesthetic devices of poetry, that provides her poems a tone that is more favorable to me.
Diction is crucial as words are a writer’s primary tool that can either make or break their ideas—particularly since diction, as John Lennard states in The Poetry Handbook, has the ability to reflect a writer’s vision and steer the reader’s perspective as well. Mary Oliver notes in A Poetry Handbook that much of contemporary poetry ‘…is written in a diction that almost belies that it was formally composed: its general tone is one of natural and friendly intimacy; the language is not noticeably different from ordinary language’ (p.77). However, Journey’s diction—which often leans towards macabre as she employs words and phrases like ‘bacterial slither’, ‘fistulated’, and ‘scarred my sternum’—contrasts with the aforementioned ‘general tone […] of natural and friendly intimacy’ for it sounds more vulgar or gory. It deviates from the general language of contemporary poetry where the colloquial diction used is more suitable for daily conversation. Therefore, Journey’s poetry becomes more unique to me, and it leaves a greater impression on me as well. On top of that, I feel that Journey’s diction does steer my perspective of contemporary poetry for it demonstrates that a poet does not have to conform to the usage of conventional daily language in order to act as a medium of thought and inquiry.
Due to Journey’s diction, I find it unsurprising that the imagery Journey weaves into her poems are incredibly vivid. As many are aware, imagery is crucial for ‘it is the detailed, sensory language incorporating images that gives the poem’ dash, tenderness and authenticity (A Poetry Handbook, p.92). In her works, Journey approaches the materiality of language and privileges the imagery in her poems with an acuity and poise that feels pleasantly natural. She twines a controlled profusion of floral and animal imagery that are thematically connected, into her poems to create surrealistic effects of accretion and dissemination which then, propels her thoughts through each collection. One such example of thematically connected imagery would be the ‘black-eyed Susans’ that appear together with the persona’s deceased uncle in “The Devil’s Apron”, “Danse Macabre, Mississippi : My Great-Grandmother Fires a BB Gun” and “There’s Another Forest Growing in the Water”. The other imagery such as ‘old frequencies of cicadas cinch up’ and ‘[t]he hummingbird’s nervous embroidery / through beach fog’ also acts a foil to the more macabre imagery, making the latter more vivid in process.
Even so, Journey’s diction and her usage of imagery are simply not enough when it comes to contributing to the tight construction of her poems, though they do well in creating the overall grim and surreal tone I have come to associate with her poetry. Instead, it is her seamless-like usage of phonaesthetic devices of poetry that does so. Since phonaesthetics is the study of the euphony or cacophony of certain words, phrases and sentences, assonance, consonance, and alliteration are some of the phonaesthetic devices of poetry. These devices are important for both the creation of a poem, and the investigation of the verbal expressiveness of language. In Vulgar Remedies, Journey’s often-subtle usage of the poetic phonaesthetic devices reflects her overall linguistic style which I prefer over poems that have more obvious inclusions of the aforementioned devices as it makes the poems sound forced and unnatural.
There are one or two poems in Vulgar Remedies that I didn’t like, and there are even more in this collection that I’m unable to wholly form my own depictions due to my lack of understanding. Even so, I find Anna Journey’s poetry really refreshing. Her poems remind me of John Donne, in the way that they both use rather unconventional imagery. She also stands out among the ocean of mainstream “poets” who have published works unsuitable to my tastes despite their overwhelming success in creating bestsellers.