Written by guest poster Cynthia Sharp, this review of Jude Neale’s A Blooming, from Ekstasis Editions, 2019, was first published in Canadian Poetry Review. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.
“Life, I repeat, is energy of love, divine or human,” William Wordsworth confessed. Jude Neale embodies that axiom in all that she does. A Blooming, from Ekstasis Editions, 2019, is a mesmerizing collocation of light, music and higher love that offers the reader permission to be passionate. The cover is resplendent with colour, much like the soul of her work through this striking collection. It compliments her exquisite poetry, unafraid of bright, direct colour and precise diction. In sharing her communion of experience, Neale explores the paradox of gentle strength, inviting readers to journey with her through all the ways to unveil light, to breathe the strength of who we are. The audience is carried through spirals of “Ruddy / benevolent / majesty.” The rhythmic play of alliteration and assonance unveils paradox after paradox of everyday light until we surrender to the magnificent, even in grief. It’s difficult to talk about light in concrete terms and yet Neale does this eloquently. She invites the reader into the nirvana of her words to drink in her peace like soothing honey to a scratchy throat, an ocean of reassurance and kindness.
When an opera singer composes a manuscript, the richness of music is transported into breaths of imagery, a delicate inviting rhythm, carved with precision and room to exhale. Each line is a universe in itself, grounded and strong. Diction like “requiem” and “melodious” permeates the pages. Composed between midnight and five AM, the writing reveals maturity and depth in this earth walk and beyond. Through the motif of tree and branch imagery, poems stretch in a multitude of directions, to those before, present and to come. Poems for Neale’s children and grandchildren invite the reader into compassionate ways of seeing, to nurture the profound nature of children:
“when it is so easy
to forget about
their luminous light.”
“You, my child’s child
stretched the borders
of my wonder.”
The cadence of verse suggests that the work is designed to be read aloud, with extra line breaks for proper pauses between images. Neale’s opera training directs her use of space:
“and I know I shall never
let go of this love,
like a September sunflower.”
Each melodic line is visually accessible, washing over the reader like a painting. Neale’s economy of words is intentional, so that poems connect directly with the reader without awkwardness or unnecessary intellectualization. The result is pure heart to heart connection.
“You are on loan
to my grateful heart,”
she says in “Both of Us Must Cross.”
As the title A Blooming suggests, a flower motif is woven powerfully through the poems, as Neale makes symbols her own, elevated with added depth and personal meaning:
“you once scattered my letters,
onto the grey circle of stones.”
She creates clear, concrete metaphors, single atoms in a vast universe, in her original combinations of specific adjectives and nouns to give an already delicate symbol like “orchids” a new shape. Every image has a unique texture, the building blocks of a Jude Neale universe. The subtle significance of symbolism is woven with her portraits of the Canadian west coast such as the moon shrouded in cloud, sea phosphorescence and mystical dragonflies. In “The Wild Rose Suite,” Neale recalls enchanting dragonflies with “iridescent blue and green wings” landing in her grandmother’s raven hair, taking readers on a meditative journey through colour and light, then ends the poem with the contrast of “…heavy white winter / when colour is the only thing / we want to believe.” The poet’s use of juxtaposition creates an engaging tension resolved in higher love, as her magic breaks open the eternal in the everyday. The whole book is a flower, exquisitely crafted. One could sit with it all spring and summer, long into autumn and be dazzled by its violet blooms through winter, digesting each line over and over. “I’m part of a glazed design / buried in the obsidian sea.” The whole rhythmic volume connects with the deep light in all.
Neale surprises readers with closing thoughts such as, “when love / was the last thing / to go.” Finishing couplets speak to the battles of lifetimes: “still needing to win / my unbridled love.” Her honesty and example of self-acceptance are a gift to anyone who’s struggled with feeling allowed to self-actualize. No matter how dark the content of a poem, her last two to three lines elevate the material and the reader with enriched understanding and compassion as she opens a new dimension of comprehension, bringing it all together, forgiven, heard, seen and remembered.
This is a poet with the courage to share her private suffering so that others may experience the healing on the other side of trauma. She has gone to the edge and beyond. She’s been deeply to depressing places. Poems like “I’m Not Waving, I’m Drowning,” allude to struggles with bipolar illness, where Neale moves through dark places and shows us the relief on the other side, so that we can hold it inside us eternally like a sunlit forest. She bravely leads the way across despondent fears into an oasis of universal light because love is all there is. She gives readers divine self-awareness, inner strength and perseverance and we hold her tangible truths and trust.
She addresses the Parkinson’s disease that took her father’s life and now afflicts her within the context of passionate love and relation in poems like “About Light,” with my favourite lines in the book:
“Bruised and broken we aren’t afraid.
We teeter onto one another’s empty stage
arms suspended like angels before the fall.”
Neale is “not afraid to hit the heart, to bypass the brain,” she said when I interviewed her and “go straight for connection.” She acknowledges the finite nature of our human lives with courageous openness to the ways of the infinite. Even death is a peaceful new beginning.
A Blooming incorporates the importance of collaboration and art influencing art, with “A Place to Call Home” inspired by Nettie Wild’s film that was projected beneath the Cambie Street bridge in Vancouver. After a shared dinner with the writer/ director, Neale dedicated a poem to her. “Paint white-silled windows / on the rooms of the homeless,” Neale writes of the artwork, in empathy with those afflicted with homelessness.
Neale’s poetic mastery is brimming with compassion and genuine love, like a sunrise through fog. Her process involves a quick initial write of images building on images, followed by a solid twenty hours of editing per poem, to “at least transform something for a moment,” she explains. The efficient writing is infused with deliberate pauses marked by white space as part of the rhythm of each poem. The most brilliant aspects of her literary landscape are the accessibility of unique, vivid imagery to capture and affirm the life experience itself, love. Each poem is edited to perfection. Lines weave together, allowing story to flow easily through well laid out symbolism with a cadence of varied line length and important line breaks suggesting that the collection is intended to be performed aloud. The book as a whole is well balanced. Even the way Neale laid out the manuscript is intuitive and musical. She placed poems on the floor, then selected them one by one from around the room as they flowed intuitively into this collection of unobstructed light.
Neale has been a poet her whole life and taught writing for thirty-five years, encouraging her students to discover their own authentic voices. She won her first CBC contest at age eight, when she described her experience travelling the interior of British Columbia by train. She continues to translate journals into poems. Mentored by Elisabeth Harvor in Toronto, a writer who received the Governor General’s award and has been published in The New Yorker, Neale’s unique gifts came forth. She continued to work with mentors such as Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose in The Writer’s Studio and Pandora’s Collective executive director Bonnie Nish, who invited Neale to her first reading over ten years ago. Neale’s titles have since been shortlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue Award in Ireland and continue to win significant accolades in her home country of Canada and through North America.
A Blooming depicts the immediacy of a heart unafraid to embrace life, to share its wisdom in uplifting energy. The world needs this, to see what lies beyond pain, to move through it to joy in these autobiographical snapshots, to transform tragedy and allow it to bloom into the light we truly desire. It makes one yearn to leap like an angel off stage toward the unknown. Neale’s insight and understanding convince her audience to embrace existential mystery with the passion that fills every line of her work. I’ll think of Jude Neale when my time comes to transition back to earth and let her lead me into the next dimension, the way A Blooming has taught me to celebrate and trust life in all its shades. As depression lifts, as Parkinson’s disease is met with dignity, as aging is embraced in the rhythmic movement of life through generations and time, the quiet wisdom of soul resonates. A Blooming encompasses the circle of life, paradoxically celebrating birth in death as we are reborn into earth, culminating with “In the End,” where Neale brings the journey together with one delicious, vivid image, “pink glories / of a wild October rose.”
About the Author: Jude Neale is a Canadian poet, classical vocalist, spoken word performer and mentor. She has been shortlisted, highly commended and a finalist for many international and national competitions. Her book A Quiet Coming of Light, A Poetic Memoir (Leaf Press) was a finalist for the 2015 Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She won publication in Britain for Splendid in its Silence (SPM publications) in 2017. In 2018, she and Bonnie Nish started an online collaboration which led them to write Cantata in Two Voices (Ekstasis Editions) in fifty challenging days. Neale recently collaborated with Thomas R.L. Beckman, the great viola voice of British Columbia, who composed the music The St. Roch Suite for the Prince George Symphony Orchestra. She is a full member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Federation of BC Writers and the Canadian Authors Association.
About the Reviewer: Cynthia Sharp is the City of Richmond’s Writer in Residence. She’s a full member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Writers’ Union of Canada and on the executive of the Federation of British Columbia Writers. She’s inspired by renewal in nature in all the ways she works, as a poet, a playwright, a screenwriter, a fiction writer and an educator.