Flares, small and celestial

I’ve been thinking about smallness, so it was fascinating to read, this weekend, Jeannine Hall Gailey’s dazzling new poetry collection, Flare, Corona, a book that explores parallel crises on many scales, from the microscopic to the telescopic. I plan to teach it so I snagged an advance review copy, but it’s now available for pre-order from BOA editions.

It’s moving to read poetry about events in Jeannine’s life that I followed in real time, especially her diagnosis with cancer (they gave her six months) then re-diagnosis with multiple sclerosis–but it’s moving in a different way to see how she frames these experiences in relation to bigger catastrophes, somehow finding inspiration in it all. A poem that covers some of this territory, “Under a Blood Moon, I Get My Brain Scanned,” connects astronomical phenomena with lesions and neurons. Elsewhere, poems link solar flares with a familiar coronavirus, ahem. This comparative or metaphorical move is in the book’s DNA: omens of doom for humanity are widespread, but apocalypse can also be internal and local, especially when your cells are turning against you. Like a lot of other powerful writing, Flare, Corona oscillates between lenses, attentive both to tiny details and the big emotional stakes of facing how precarious life can be.

I’ve been in a mood of midlife reconsideration, and that’s here, too–see “April in Middle Age”–but while I’m several years older than Jeannine, she came to this angle of vision through a sense of mortality that has more near and acute sources. As I study Flare, Corona now–I read another version years ago, in manuscript, as she was struggling to find a home for the book–what strikes me is the prevalence of poems about legacy. The collection begins with her irradiated girlhood and a resulting inability to have children: “I could give birth to nothing but light.” Later she observes, “I have a lot of books/ and no one to pass them on to”; references “The Waste Land,” a poem also about heritage and loss; conjures gardens for the future, in defiance of the end of the world; and in a wonderfully weird poem, imagines incubating a glass baby. Again, our situations and coping strategies are different, but the “does writing poetry matter” question I’ve been pondering in other posts resonates throughout Flare, Corona. It’s not a big leap from “does writing poetry matter” to “what will be left of all this later.” The book ends up turning away from despair at those enormities to pleasure in the small, beautiful moments that life, and poems, so often give us.

I’m taking poetry personally again, metabolizing someone else’s words and experiences in a way that risks conflating Jeannine’s crises with my own. My brain’s neural glitches involve not a dangerously haywire immune system but depression and anxiety, mostly dormant now after a menopausal flare (and re-diagnosis, actually–women’s mental health can change pretty drastically during hormonal wildfires). Yet Jeannine’s poetic and social media chronicles have long made me feel that I have company in my uncertainties. I love her poems but I also love the story of this book’s publication. She had begun to wonder whether she’d ever publish a book again; then her work caught fire in some fancy magazines, little sparks followed by the big catch of a contract with the nonprofit publisher BOA. The latter, a nonprofit press, is one of the best poetry indies, meaning not only that it has a strong list but that it provides real marketing support and thereby extends a poet’s reach. Jeannine deserves it, but plenty of people who deserve success don’t get it, so I’m both delighted for her and glad to warm my hands by the hope of it all.

Meanwhile, I revise the little poems in my own ms and try to make them bigger. I pull tarot spreads that suggest a continued future as a small press author–a good thing in so many ways!–but also that I’m struggling to come to terms with my own ambitions. I had a couple of lovely acceptances from great magazines this week, but I have to keep speaking sternly with myself about not focusing on the rejections instead. I’ve been sweating the small things.

So I’ll end with some wins as I strive for a happier perspective on the landscape ahead. Poetry’s Possible Worlds continues to sell well in indie terms: in Dec/ Jan, it was the #6 nonfiction title on the Small Press Distribution list. It’s out of stock at the distributor’s again, sigh, but AbeBooks and Bookshop.org have copies. AND I learned that it’s being taught at the US Naval Academy to undergrads looking for new ways to write about literature. Seeing it play that role in a classroom is a dream deeply embedded in how I designed the project. AND a panel I’m part of was just accepted to the New Orleans Poetry Festival, so guess where I’m going in April? Below are a couple of event flyers for near-future things, too: a reading on 2/25 at a wonderful indie bookstore in Charlottesville, VA, plus another for an #AWP offsite reading I’m excited about (more on AWP events later–I have a panel, a signing, and a book fair reading, too).

In the meantime, order Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Flare, Corona. It’s my new favorite of her books–personal and public and everything in between. Plus, did I mention the appealingly large trim size?

3 responses to “Flares, small and celestial”

  1. […] Since I got my author copies early, I was able to send out a few copies pre-AWP, including to my parents in Ohio. You can see my mother (isn’t she cute?) holding the book to the left. A few other people let me know they received the book safely as well, so it’s making its way all over the place. Here’s a lovely early review from my friend Lesley Wheeler: Flares, small and celestial – LESLEY WHEELER! […]


  2. I’ve never been to the Pacific NW states and wish I could attend this year’s AWP–and your readings, and Jeannine’s (and finally meet her in person)…but since I won’t be there, I send many good wishes, and may you both sell many books!


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