Poems fit for small gods and wild things

Jill Brady’s début poetry collection
Machines that Make Machines

Jill’s poems are “fit for small gods and wild things.” My review of Jillian Brady’s début collection starts with this line and I couldn’t stop myself, I just kept writing and quoting and glorying in her work.

Sean created the stunning cover with artfully arranged sticks when we were house-sitting in the south of France several months back.

Jill and Sean are two of the most creative people I know. I want to grow up to BE THEM.

It was just last year that Jill was working on these poems when she visited us in Florence. Here’s my full review:

“First Miracle,” the first poem in Machines that Make Machines, sets the primeval tone of the collection; man versus nature, nature versus machines, man as beast or vegetation.

you germinate in the center
of a tree for nine months
or ninety days

push the rings apart
and slide a limber hand between them.

Brady’s poems are surprising. For example, “Rat Cage, Needs Cleaning —” takes a quotidian ad for a hamster cage and elevates it to an enclosure fit for small gods and wild things. Note that gods and wolverines are on the same level, and that one might want to cage them:

Useful for:

any small gods
hedgehogs, wolverines, bats
contain wild things in a free
two-story cage with water bottle
attached–

“(Second) Request for ICE to Return Book” is a poem in the guise of a book return reminder from a library that references One Hundred Years of Solitude and turns into a dreamy letter about Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There’s a sly wit here that plays with the absurdity of the quotidian to the point of magical realism.

I feel like a voyeur reading “Sometimes you Eat Rabbit” – a poem alive with animal sensuality but the charged atmosphere might just be my imagination. These poems make me question myself as much as I wonder about the author and the subject of the poem.

These poems flex, drown, birth, catch, rip, eat: men cage gods, men eat animals, trees birth people and young ladies get lost in opioid forests. Nature, trees, the tide — wildness is the main character, whether it’s in the body of a tree, a rock, a lake, a small god or a woman.

There’s something subversively, deliciously pagan here – a world in which everything is connected. Water wends its way violently from a tsunami in the book return reminder poem to “Candlewood Lake 1979”, where its less aggressive but still somewhat sinister. Another time it appears in “The Castle,” where a moat echoes the tideline. Water flows through this collection like sap in a tree. It’s ever-present.

A foamy moat already
Coughed at the edifice
Blew at the foundation
lived only the space
between two tides.

Though most of the poems are free-verse, some are more formal and follow an established or intuitive structure. “Summer Please” is faceted and tight as a Emily Dickinson poem. It could be slipped into an Emily D anthology and no one would second guess it.

If Summer would but pass
with her overexposed eye
Delicately fold her mass
Into the attic sky-

Playful (with form, thought), intellectual but not obtuse, vulnerable (but sidestepping the maudlin), Machines that Make Machines is a wonderfully diverse, smart, and imaginative collection. I come away from the pages feeling oddly conspiratorial with the poems, like we’ve done something scandalous.

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