Book Review: In the Palace of Creation, by Janine Canan

[Reviewed by Jaylan Salah]

Oh, what sweet torture.

This sentence sprang to my mind the moment I began reading Janine Canan’s inspirational poetry collection “In the Palace of Creation.” Why I felt that way will be explained in the paragraphs to come.

“In the Palace of Creation” contains selected poems by Janine from the years 1969-1999. It is divided into 8 sections. Section 7 contains poems translated from other poets’ works and the last section contains the conclusion to all the mystery and enquiry of the previous poems. The thing with good poetry is that it always leaves the door open. It never gives us direct answers or puts a full stop at the end of the sentence. It’s a spontaneous process of living the experience without expecting anything from it. That’s what I felt with Janine’s poetry.

In the beginning, you stand at the door of Canan’s “Abandoned Garden”. You are hesitant and afraid, unsure of what to expect. But as you go through the lines and immerse yourself in the exquisite beauty, you realize that you’re just a pilgrim, finding your Mecca at Janine’s feet. She is the Goddess, the Mother of All and we’re all praying females, drinking from the river of her individuality and strength. Throughout the whole book, you lose your materialism and turn into one of Canan’s birds. You’re the Eagle in “Two Eagles”, losing your shyness and flying away into the sky. You’re the woodpecker that drums upon the hemlock tower in “Forest Temple”. You will scream your lungs away as a peacock in “Stubborn Rose”.

Jaylan Salah is a freelance writer and Synchronized Chaos contributor from Alexandria, Egypt. You may reach Salah at vigilante171@yahoo.com.

Metamorphosis is a poignant element in the reading experience of Canan’s poetry collection. Your molecules and atoms fight together and clash at the feet of reality where vulvas don’t host temples for praying women and the thirteen goddesses don’t address us in person from the top of their minarets. But still you conquer your objectification of the world and the controversial thematic anthologies as you delve deeper into this rich collection of poetic genius.

As a female myself, I enjoyed certain poems that expressed my Self immensely. I kneeled “At the Vulva Stone”, mesmerized by the erotic descriptions and the provoking spirituality at the same time. In “Jay Joy”, I become the Blue jay and leap into the pure blue light. “Waves” is a rollercoaster ride, it yells at you, you’re a woman, you’re a woman, yet without doing it in an obvious way. Nothing is more beautiful than walking the storm naked with air in my hair and my white dog lighting the darkened skies for me. A wonderfully written line says,

“I go deeper in the suffering
And am flooded with the meaning
Foam feet running toward mine.”

While “Earth Talks” is full-on imagination, “Someone Steps Near” lands us down on planet earth where complicated inter-human relationships govern everything. In “Woman” the writer speaks to the Mother while her modern surroundings engulf her. Somehow her words are full of regret and pain, maybe she regrets belonging to this world and maybe she yearns to find her Self in seeking refuge from the Mother. When I first read that poem, I pictured some of the lines could be used by the writer to address her old lover whom she regrets leaving yet being with him chains her. The words in this masterfully written poem carry vibes of regret, sadness and desire. It took my breath away.

Glimpses of the modern world are easily seen through other poems in “Someone Steps Near”. The imagery is vivid and striking like a painting. Couples chatting in cafes, lanterns, empty roads, Grandma’s quilts, dining tables, violins, beds and worn out boots are found throughout various poems. But in some poems, the mood shifts to a much darker and deeper aspect of woman’s emotions.  “Dear Body” depicts a woman’s fear and admiration of her own body as she inspects its nudity in front of a mirror. Some of the lines were quite haunting like “with only a sore knee at puberty” or “your white thighs that frightened me”. “A Divine Meal” has a humorous feel to it and some of the lines satisfy your senses like “I like my plate disheveled with a well-licked fork” or “a good cook is one of the million gods I worship”.

“Moving Together in This Conversation” sparks the unexpectedness in every love relationship. Although the title states the involvement of both parties, most poems express the feminine loneliness and insecurity. The descriptions are vivid and some of the images are meant to shock you and allow you time to rethink it more than once afterwards, some of the most notable lines were in the wonderful poem “Asking”,

“Your mouth is a hungry penis,
You’re growing hair
Wondering if you should get
A sex change.”

But although mainly the metaphor in “Moving Together in This Conversation” is meant to shake us from the inside, “Sarangi Sorrow” stands out as a peaceful and poignant poem. It is probably the most romantic one in this collection with sad and musical lines.

“The Sound of Change” takes us on a short journey with Justine, Canan’s fictional traveler and seeker whom we will meet in Canan’s next book “Journeys with Justine”. The journeys are all well-written pieces of prose with various familiar elements from Canan’s universe. I especially enjoyed “A Good Laugh” where Justine discusses life and the three theories “Love, Power, and Work” with an old friend, Plum.

In “Natural Travelers” Canan tells the story of brave and independent women who influenced her and will influence us after reading them. Kate, Denise, Carolyn, Gloria and Georgia are the guards of Canan’s sacred temple and in every corner we find bits and pieces of their stories lyrically collected to inspire us. A change in tone comes in “Samson” where Delilah addresses a weakened Samson after she cut off his hair. Being the rebel she is, Canan shows us how cutting the hair wasn’t an act of betrayal on behalf of Delilah as much as it was a way of reaching her equality through pulling Samson down to stand on the same level with her. Canan succeeds in changing the tone for every collection by writing a poem that stands out from all the others.

With a perfectly chosen blend of translations comes the end to Canan’s book. “In other Words” presents poems by Marguerite Yourcenar, Mirabi, Else Lasker-Schuler and Ricarda Huch.

“In The Palace of Creation” is a powerful work of art with the boldness and determination of a true feminist willing to make a change in the world. Certainly the woman who started on it is never the same woman who reached the other side after reading it. I’m very thankful to Janine Canan for giving us this wonderful opportunity to travel that labyrinth inside her head and see the world from the eyes of a prophet.

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