Review of Jo Langdon’s Debut Collection: Snowline
’… these short, spare, finely wrought poems work within a complex imaginative structure. They build again in the mind that strange, closed, free place: the house of childhood.’ – Lisa Gorton
‘With wit and shimmering precision Jo Langdon’s poems connect the surreal, imagined world to what is felt. Her music is spare, wounding, hypnotic.’ – Michelle Cahill
Collection Snowline is the beautiful debut offerings of Melbourne poet, Jo Langdon. Beyond the cover lies a transparent page which allows us to find the collection’s title when we press our hands onto it. I love so much this sense of immediacy and discovery. This first echo of texture sets a pace and place for the poetry. The entirety of the book focuses on reflections, memories of familial and first loves. It goes beyond sentimentality and gives body to its subjects. Liner images of animals, landscape and the natural world become seamless and slip between itself and a kind of sleep state.
The opening poem ‘Sleepless’ awakens the collection’s central theme of returning. The lines that stand out were: ‘The house of love / this haunted hotel, / a ghost road of your / before’ and ‘Heavier things encased / in glass’. I empathise so much with the latter line, there’s a fragility that comes with the uneasiness of sleep and the concept of sleep evades waking life, every inch of it. Like relationships, things inevitably become ‘sleepless’ and then, it’s kind of a muddling through the ‘Clutter of tired / mementoes’, the aftermath that often goes unspoken. This poem addresses those ‘afters’ and the constancy that’s the mind in the middle of the night speaking over itself.
‘& we slow to watch. / The trees release their own light’, is one of my favourite lines from ‘The Shape’, alongside ‘Before the billygoat bridge / we try to make out / bone shapes’. I’m enamoured completely just by those line breaks alone, but also the way the imagery comes across as fierce. The ‘bone shapes’ are talking about the stature of different species of trees, ‘the lexis of anatomy / is surprising beautiful’. This image is followed by the scene of the narrator’s mother feeding eels at the Royal Botanic Gardens, there’s a strangeness here, not only in the setting, placing us in the beauty of the gardens paired with the ugliness of eels.
The poem which takes the collections title comes from these lines, ‘Late snow lines the branches of trees, it’s glitter / not as I’d imagined’ from the poem ‘Stadtpark’. The poem ‘Rabbit’ has a lovely sense of alliteration, and consistency of blood-beat. It’s reminiscent of the way an animal might pause and hear its own breath. It also reminds me of that strange occurrence of realising that breath is the only thing, at that moment that is in existence. The lines echo strong space and it correlations, anchoring these to childhood and nostalgias but also works to show how we let these things fill us. We pick them up and put them in ourselves. The possibility of wildness and wilderness equals breathless excitement, and is almost primal in its wanting. ‘& other moments of childhood – / the lemon tree, & the plum; / planetariums of fruit / we navigated like astronauts’ fills these conditions, ending with ‘I never found the shape of a rabbit / inside the paper-bright moon again’ is both sad but realises the evasive nature of itself and is content with the chance of adventure. This poem is followed tenderly and tentatively with ‘Garlic’ which delves into the recognition of maternal love, how it’s carried. The people in these poems are like apparitions of people in our own lives. The title also pairs well with the finality of ‘Rabbit’ in food culture.
Not even halfway through, I am struck by the approach to expression and subjects, often worn by time and misuse, Langdon gives newer ways of seeing into these topics. Animals are a centralised here and these ties strongly to family and feelings. These brief, concrete poems give us more than a vignette, they give us a broader way of seeing via snappy imagery. For example, ‘Jetty’ polarises ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ as separate entities. Day evokes a memory of sunshine and happiness as fluid as water. The poem seems to represent the surface while ‘Night’ counteracts with its bareness and its truths. ‘Night’ focuses on what’s beneath—the trueness of landscape, opposed to its bodies which inhabit Day. But both day and night, as elements and concepts need to be in place to work to balance how we handle ourselves and how the world evolves around us.
‘Zoo’ follows, taking a more solid face within this poem’s lines of ‘snow is coming down / sideways to the street’. Zoo evokes the same connotations of being confined in one space, ‘small dense body hiding / warmth’ and the images surrounding the animals, the witnessing of their existing in unfamiliar landscapes brings about this epiphany:
‘& what you would have made
with someone to tell.’
The end line ‘The light leaves you here’ has stayed with me. This idea that light transports, alters, carries and places a current state of being, cementing it to that setting, is haunting but also compelling. These 25 poems give us a viewfinder in which to search for ourselves in Langdon’s expression and we often find memories in these reflections. What Snowline has done for my poet wavelength is teach me to write candidly about the things that haunt me, and in doing so the end result will be cathartic and universally emotive. Your poet palate will widen within your reading of this beautiful offering.