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Jane Downs’ poems are strong stuff. They jolt the heart. They dip down into the mythic eternal present in unexpected places — in the midst of a family scene from childhood, at the lake edge, for example. Something terrible trembles at the edges of a sunny American landscape, as fathers drink gin and mothers show off tan legs in her prose poem sequence “Adirondack Dream.” Beauty and terror are never far apart in Downs’ incandescent, haunting world.
Downs overcame my resistance to the prose poem; hers are so stunning. Now, I find myself writing them. That’s one of many Cross–Ties between us. I have also learned from her the skillful interweaving of texts. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is a ghost that wanders in and out of her “April Elegy,”—a long and powerful poem about her father’s suicide, published as a chapbook by Kattywompus Press. Downs knows how to work her material and let it work her. She inspires me with her capacity to find words for unbearable truths, which, in the process of poem–making, take on breathtaking, improbable, beauty.
In my capacity as Poetry Editor of Psychological Perspectives, a publication of the Los Angeles Jung Institute, I featured Downs and her work. (Some of the prose poems in “Adirondack Dream" were first published there.) I wrote this about her development as a poet:
Downs has been a poet since her childhood. Her father loved poetry and word play. Downs learned early that literature was the way into his heart. She memorized lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” before she learned how to read. Her mother was a classical pianist. Downs says: “The combination of her playing and Father’s love of language taught me to hear the beauty of a single word as if it were a musical note.”
Downs studied at Syracuse University and at Mills College. Her work has won prizes and appeared in numerous publications including Ashville Poetry Review, FIELD, Folio, Spillway, Green Hills Literary Lantern, The North American Review, Ninth Letter, and Poetry Flash. She has published three chapbooks. Her novella, The Sleeping Wall won Fiction Fix Award and was published in 2013. She is a partner in Red Berry Editions, which produces beautiful handmade books.
--Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, Poet of the Week.