Jennifer Moore’s debut collection takes its title from a bullfighting technique in which the matador draws the bull with his cape; in these poems, however, traditional moves are reconfigured and roles are subverted. In a broader sense, the word “veronica” (from the Latin vera, or “true” and the Greek eikon, or “image”) functions as a frame for exploring the nature of visual experience, and underscores a central question: how do we articulate events or emotions that evade clear understanding? In order to do so, the figures here perform all manner of transformations: from vaudeville star to cartoonist’s daughter, from patron saint to “Blue-Eyed Torera;” they are soothsayers, apothecaries, curators, often conjuring selves out of thin air. This dilating and “shape-shifting” of perspective becomes a function of identity: “the absorber and the absorbed become one.” Indeed, both speaker and listener must be crafted-willed into being-by each other (“Be your own maestro”), and are apparitions until then. Through a flick of the wrist or a trick of the eye, these speakers understand that construction of a self comes only through performance of that self—which performances are often punctuated with a wink, an unswerving gaze, or both at once.
In The Veronica Maneuver, each poem is a flammable mouth that refuses to be muzzled. Dazzling and dislocating the reader with ventriloquism, vaudevillian gowns, and sword swallowing, the book’s arresting tone is established by its torero title and first line—“In the Year of Our Lord the Electric Chair.” The sizzle, hazard (and humor) of Moore’s work dilates as she dismantles the commonplace with deft conjuring. Negotiating a space for women’s voices that is electric and multivalent, her poetry pivots on “making maneuvers look effortless,” and she is a masterful matador, unfurling the vibrant cloth of her poems to challenge and rouse us. These are “blood-dance” evocations deserving to be heard.
Jennifer Moore cuts right to the marrow and in so doing finds the marrow’s song. “Doesn’t each history,” she asks, “contain another body?” Perhaps this is her way of showing that our humanity is revealed in our woundedness. Yet in Moore’s lushly musical poems, it also means something stranger, mysterious—yes, something magical. The harmonies that fulfill these poems know grief as well as wit, intelligence, and empathy. This poet incises language with passion, not dispassion, until breath and pulse coalesce. In this fine book, “the absorber and the absorbed become one.”