The dead can be electrifying if presented in an interesting dynamic. These poems frame beautiful tonal registers and colors because a poet who is also a musician makes poems that can brighten the room with extreme energy. This comes from a true knowing and belief in its subjects, and familiarity with the lyric. This book may be seen as an elegy to great composers, to parents, past lovers, and all those who have become revelatory, and now are changed to verse. Jennings upholds her ancestry and testifies to it with poetry of the rich past which has gifted her. This is a voice pulling up stories of heat and light that honor her personal and intellectual heritage — words pulled up from the rich bottomland of longing and remembrance. She takes emotions to the top and shows her expertise and range in exact measurements.
I am haunted by Carol Jennings’ unmatchable ability to write the harmonics of music, language, memory, and emotion. In her debut book, The Dead Spirits at the Piano, a cast of characters from the familial to historical interweave to illuminate the ways art touches life, and how lives touch, entangle, even wrestle, with art. Of the dozens of memorable poems of this collection, there are some truly unforgettable pieces, including the masterful ‘The Color of Voice,’ ‘Sonnet for the Dead,’ ‘Dust Jacket,’ and ‘Elegy for a Poet.’ In ‘The Color of Voice,’ the synaesthetic confluence of taste, sound, and texture remind me of Keats, his sincerity and huge sensitivity and even his struggle to bring influences into the poetry while making it his own. I have followed Jennings’ poetry for some years. I hope that with this book her work will come to be read and appreciated as it fully deserves.
Spirits are supposed to be of the dead, but these form the liveliest crew of only-seemingly-departed composers, lovers, artists, ancestors, dramatis personae. Jennings’ grandmother warned, ‘Be careful whom you love at seventeen, he will have a death grip on your life.’ So Jennings’ changeable seasons teem with lovable and loving ghosts, ancestors, personal demons, suicides, and the keys on her late mother’s grand piano resound with messages that cannot be traced.
Carol Jennings’ poems enliven the intellectual aspects of knowing music, history, and the people and world she inhabits while evoking texture and wisdom about the specifics of a life among stories. She writes through the ages with a corporeal instinct about relatives, composers and poets, instrumentalists and doomed souls, communing as if she can feel what they felt, play what they imagined, feel the heat and wind of their times. These are wise poems, taking what she knows and intuits to expand into a voice that explores how we grow and come to know the world through the harmonies we experience.
The Dead Spirits at the Piano celebrates music, art, memory, passion, and history, both personal and mythical. Music is the spine and heart of the book, as well as the dead, and the weight of their presence upon the physical. . . . . Dead Spirits manages to celebrate a life of regrets and a life of promises, and maintain balance and grace throughout.
The composers and writers Jennings conjures in The Dead Spirits at the Piano create a vibrant microclimate where dead and living co-exist. Symphonic music, in particular, yokes past and present, as the poet ‘converses’ with figures from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. . . . .the generative human impulse to make art of lived experience — and thereby bridge the dead and quick — undergirds this collection. For Jennings, ‘Brahms, Beethoven, Bach impose / their visions of order and clarity.’ For readers, Jennings does the same.