Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Holy Nothing - Jessica Hiemstra (Pedlar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Holy Nothing.  Jessica Hiemstra.  Pedlar Press.  St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.  2016.


Reading Jessica Hiemstra's The Holy Nothing is exactly the poetry tonic needed by Today's book of poetry.  Some poets know how to cut right to the chase, hit the ground running.

Today's book of poetry just returned from an epic journey to the jowls of southern California and we were feeling a little poetry skeptical.  A little poetry jaded even.  All those highways outside and inside of Los Angeles is enough to put the fear in you.

Jessica Hiemstra is precisely the way to go.  In one of her poems Hiemstra has Irene's grandfather warming his wife's earrings in a moment so sweet and perfect that Today's book of poetry had a jaw drop moment.  Yes, yes, yes, but don't for one second think that Hiemstra is serving up treacle.  This stuff is pure.

The Holy Nothing will go a long way in proving Hiemstra to be one of those smart voices we need to hear from.  Canadian poetry needs this kind of voice in its choir.  

Jessica Hiemstra knows how hard and dark the world can be and she is willing to take you there.  One minute your warm heart glows with tenderness, the next, not so tender at all.


There are haloes
around light switches
elevator buttons. We touch
and take something, leave something.
Smudge of oil, fleck of paint.

I hold my heart, its worn
marble steps. Can you see it,
the dog moon halo of men
who paced here, pressed here,
took something, left me
nearly holy?


Jessica Hiemstra is great with a pencil, The Holy Nothing is riddled with excellent sketches and drawings by the poet, all of them quite lovely.  Today's book of poetry admired the drawings - but adored the poems.

With The Holy Nothing Jessica Hiemstra has found that sore spot we all have when we've lost someone very important, she strums that nerve as though she were Johnny Cash, diet-pill rapid and ripped, beating the bejesus out of his wooden box of a guitar.  Hiemstra has fine tuned that minor chord we bellow when we are all singing that song "loss."

Not sure how Hiemstra quite pulls it off but underlying all that turmoil, grief and leaving, there is an undercurrent of hope, a rim of possible light breaking crisp on the newly forming horizon.  It is not all grim.


I balance on silence in my skis
after lunch. Snow's not rain.
Love's not grace. I suppose

what I wanted was grace,
a version of atonement
that required nothing of me.

Of course I forgive you,
that was never a question.

Spring comes and means
nothing, but it's still holy.


Today's book of poetry was enthralled by The Holy Nothing, we knew after the first poem, just like after taking the first bite of a new recipe, all tasty hopeful, we were hooked.  The Holy Nothing didn't let us down.  

Our morning read was an unrehearsed pleasure.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, took the lead and assigned each of us our poems.  Kathryn said that these poems "tasted copper, tasted blood."  If Kathryn was meaning that they felt real and true then she was right on track.

How about this one:  Jessica Hiemstra's The Holy Nothing reads smart like Sue Goyette, tender like Wendell Berry and smartdark like Saint Susan of Musgrave.


Angry that his donkey got into a feed sack
a farmer in South America
poured gasoline on her and lit a match.

She ran blazing, ears back, circled home,
winded and raw. He was tender
with his salve, cursed himself
for cursing her.


Milo, our head tech, came up empty-handed after I'd sent him into the stacks to see if we had either of Jessica Hiemstra's earlier books of poetry.  Well, there's another name to add to our list of book searches.

Strong and smart always go a long way here at Today's book of poetry.  The Holy Nothing is pure petrol for your poetry engine.  High test.

Image result for jessica hiemstra photo

Jessica Hiemstra

Jessica’s widely published in literary journals and has edited anthologies of poetry, stories and essays. She’s won several awards for her poetry, and every time she finds the right words she’s surprised and happy.   At the moment Jessica’s writing from the second story of a little beige house in Toronto. She’s at work on a novel alongside her poems, paintings and drawings. 

"Hiemstra’s vulnerability and her resilience are palpable throughout this volume, and she addresses hard personal and universal truths with a relentlessly straightforward honesty. It is this honesty that makes her collection so compelling." 

Jessica Hiemstra
Tree Reading Series, Ottawa
26 January 2016
Video: Tree Reading Series

Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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