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Speaking without tongues - Jane Monson

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Speaking without tongues
Jane Monson
Paperback / softback
Cinnamon Press
UK Publication Date

Speaking Without Tongues is poetry with a difference - a collection of prose poems that mark Jane Monson as one of the most talented young writers, delivering highly crafted, exquisitely precise pieces with wit and intelligence.

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There are many layers to these pieces; philosophy, theology, folk-lore and mythology are the bedrock, but the foundations are built on with linguistic clarity and a story-tellers eye for detail so that what appears above the surface can be engaging or strange, humane or disquieting, but always compelling and accessible.
Publisher: Cinnamon Press

A prose poem can be a polite expression for loose, vaguely poetic writing. This is certainly not the case with the work of Jane Manson. Her pieces are intense, sometimes nightmarish, sometimes delicately photographic, but always with honed, perfectly selected words, a rhythm and a sense of shape which is all her own.

That said, many of the poems deal with very raw-edged experiences. The collection is dedicated to the memory of her parents and much of it concerns them. She writes of her mother's epilepsy and its terrifying effect on Jane and her brother, her mother's death on the road, as well as her father's illness and death. There are also moments of tenderness and joy such as the wonderful picture of children playing with falling blossom in 'Defying Gravity': "The sky has come into bloom and they are catching the pieces that fall". The children move "in awkward twists, like pine trees thrashing in snow". The specific curve typical of pine branches is so well chosen here. In 'Family Portrait' she writes "My mother's death taught me language...What splits into the white is not writing, not speech, but pieces of voice, littering the home, like smashed china." The poems do have the quality of shards of a life but from their curve and texture the reader can deduce the whole.

Throughout, Jane Monson is preoccupied with communication, or the prevention of it: one child bites her lip to silence her thoughts (in 'Hatching'), the other covers the walls of his room with the tally of questions his mother refused to hear ('The Unheard'), and there are several very sensitive pieces on types of aphasia. In contrast, the title-piece beautifully describes a conversation in sign-language - "flight-ways of hands catch and knit words mid-air". 'Visible Speech' is a minutely observed description of a turf fire burning which is also a sustained metaphor for life becoming language.

Jane Monson's work is challenging in its content but displays great understanding, minute observation and a unique musicality.
Caroline Clark @

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