I don’t think it’s an overgeneralization to say that our relationships to our families and to our place of births are frequently fraught with difficulty. Even under the best of circumstances, relationships that are so profound, so essential to our identities, and so impossible to escape are bound to conjure a host of complex emotions, and I would imagine that these already complex emotions become even more complex still when someone is a member of a group or groups of people who have been historically marginalized. It is these complicated emotions that T.J. Jarrett, winner of the George Garrett award and guest writer at this year’s SouthWord on November 3 and 4, bravely tackles in her newest collection of poetry, Zion.
The poems collected in Zion are beautiful and lyrical, without question, but the subjects they tackle are frequently horrific: death, destruction, oppression, doubt, violence, and loss. Jarrett does not mince words when describing the brutality of nature and of human beings, nor does she attempt to make these things make a neat and tidy kind of sense. In fact, in one of the most amusingly self-aware poems in the entire collection “The Peonies at the Bodega,” notes how rarely reality can be interpreted in the heavy-handed, grandiose ways many poems be interpreted. However, in spite of all of this, Jarrett’s poems are not altogether grim. They are gritty, yes, but they are also hopeful and resilient. Throughout the collection, the voice of a mother and a grandmother encourages a dark-skinned daughter to remain strong in the face of racism and sexism, for although family relationships are messy and complicated, they can also be a source of strength. Ultimately, it is love and forgiveness—even towards one’s oppressors—that triumphs in this collection.
TJ Jarrett is a senior editor of Tupelo Quarterly and a business intelligence consultant for HealthTrust in Brentwood, Tennessee. She is the author of two collections of poetry and will be appearing as a guest writer at SouthWord on November 3 and 4.