In grad school we used to play the game, What wine (or food) (or music) would you pair with this book? For Lois P. Jones’ Night Ladder, I’d recommend a starter of dried apricots, field greens, almonds, and pears. For the meal, a bowl of leftover vegetable stew served with a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape and a chunk of dark, crusty sourdough rye. These poems are a complexity of textures and flavors. Poems that begin shining with the jeweled reflectiveness and near translucency of a dried pear reveal themselves to be dark, deep, and rich as the imagination itself. Filled with duende, revenge, and soul-ache, Night Ladder delivers stunning image after stunning image (“If she stepped out of her face just once / the landscape would be white foxes / at twilight. Her hand / a frozen river, her mouth a creature / half locked in ice”) and bold, necessary observations (“Anonymity makes war possible, otherwise / you couldn’t look your brother in the eye”). From the poem “Unmarked Grave,” in which Federico García Lorca’s murderers are buried by history as Lorca sails into the collective imagination, to the poem “Foal,” in which the narrator’s abusive father hears the crackling flame of revenge and feels his throat “prickle with stars,” Jones’ poems never shy away from difficult topics in the name of easy beauty. Yet, they are beautiful—beautiful in the way of a sublime but menacing rain or a snow globe found in an abandoned house. It is, in fact, the transfiguration of difficult or mundane experience into a mythic divinity that is the hallmark of Jones’ work. Imagine a magic ladder that can be seen only in starlight. You can climb it anywhere—deeper into yourself and your own wisdom, backwards to the dawn of ancient civilizations, upwards for a clearer view of where you’d like to head—this is Lois P. Jones’ Night Ladder, twisting and reaching to deliver us, flawed and frightened as we are, to the highest parts of ourselves.
MELISSA STUDDARD is the author of the poetry collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast and the poetry chapbook Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings. Her work has been featured by PBS, NPR, The New York Times, The Guardian, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and has also appeared in periodicals such as POETRY, Kenyon Review, Psychology Today, New Ohio Review, Harvard Review, Missouri Review, and New England Review. Her Awards include The Penn Review Poetry Prize, the Tom Howard Prize from Winning Writers, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and more.