Don’t Miss This (A Review and Giveaway)
July 31, 2012 § 18 Comments
I can’t read Jena Strong’s beautiful memoir in poetry, Don’t Miss This, without thinking of Jena herself, whom I had the pleasure to meet last December. Last year, after I read on her blog that she was in Washington, DC, I emailed her, and the next thing I knew, I was pulling up in front of her hotel and she was folding her tiny body into my car. We ran along the Potomac and later, went out for breakfast. And somehow, after that brief morning visit, I felt as if I had known Jena for years.
While we were running, I rather obnoxiously asked about, what she calls in Don’t Miss This, “the shattering realization” that she was gay. “How did you know?” I wondered, wanting to know less about the specifics and more about how someone can so courageously make such a leap of faith. Jena graciously answered my questions and for the next six miles, we discussed what living authentically means, how much courage that takes, and how confusing it can be, how difficult it is to determine if we are doing it right.
In her memoir, Jena describes the “undiscovered rooms, the Chinese boxes I kept trying to get to the bottom of …There were the velvet boxes holding round golden promises, the dented cardboard boxes containing journals, crushed repositories of my existence.”
Reading Don’t Miss This is almost like sitting beside Jena herself. Her words on the page contain her warmth, her grace, her fearlessness. Her writing is mesmerizing and sharp, taut and fluid. In structure, the memoir in poems is divided into three parts: She Who Stays, Landmine, and What I’ll Miss.
For me, She Who Stays, was the most searing section of the book. She writes about what happens before the earthquake of her coming out, those days of so much suffering, of keeping so much inside. One poem in particular, “How the Light Gets In,” made me shiver in recognition:
Later, after the dishes and the laundry,
the diapers and the dishes again,
I felt the tightening in my chest,
martyrdom rising in me like an unstoppable wave
when the family breakfast ended
in spills and tears and anger
as I sat feeling powerless
to the shadow side of their closeness.
Jena writes of the harrowing task of telling the truth, of becoming who we are supposed to be, about who we have been all along, those parts of ourselves that we try to squirrel away and hide. In the second part of her book, Landmine, Jena writes with the stark discipline of a warrior, when, as she beautifully pens in “No Retreat”:
There is nothing left to do.
Only to look back
at the path of jewels you’ve walked
to arrive here at this place of no retreat.
In “When It Happens,” she writes about what no retreat looks like:
having learned to be calm
having learned to be patient
to stay still in a storm
that swept our houses clean.
Reading Jena’s poetry, it is impossible not to harken back to your own dear life, to call to yourself the times that you stayed when you should have fled, when you ran when you should have stayed, when you failed to listen to the small, insistent voice inside yourself that always tells the truth. And reading her poetry is to become at peace with that precious voice, to hear it ringing clearly in whatever tone and note is true for you. In “Night Poets,” you can’t help but be called to:
step out at 2:30am,
the moths banging against
the bare fluorescent bulb,
do as she taught and listen hard –
Jena’s final section of the book, What I’ll Miss, is a unromanticized narrative of what is gained when you tell the truth, and also, what is lost. In “Falling Seasons”:
Tonight is all flickering flame
and a prayer to the waning moon
high above my children’s beds,
a head bowed in gratitude
for the strong medicine
I received today,
all four directions
answering the quiet call
for a longing I couldn’t name.
This section, more than the other three, contains a hush, a silence, a heart that is at peace. This final part of the book is about the quiet after the explosion, the calm after the storm. It is a paen not to banging down doors and breaking into a new life but to moving through fear “An animal on all fours, quietly and with measured steps.”
More than anything, Jena’s poems open up the bottles full of emotions we have corked tightly, hidden in the back of the closet, buried in the recycling bin of a bright supermarket at midnight. She gives voice to everything that doesn’t quite fit, that refuses to be named in the light of day. And yet, Jena’s memoir is also full of unbridled joy and the victory that comes from staying present, even when that present moment aches.
Your shame, all those moments
when you wanted to hide,
to disappear, to retract and retreat –
these are your gifts.
Look inside. Don’t run.
To win a copy of Jena Strong’s book, leave a comment below and I will pick a winner at random on Thursday, August 2. You can read Katrina Kenison’s review of Jena’s book here and Lindsey Mead Russell’s review here.
[…] copy of “Don’t Miss This.” Read Katrina’s review here, and Pamela’s here, and be sure to leave a comment for their book […]
How is it that I’ve missed this book? I’d love to win a copy, of course – and if not, will make sure one is in my hands soon. So simply elegant…
Thanks, Pamela. Just gorgeous.
Thank you, Pam. Today will be my second day of the summer having a little time to myself while the kids are at soccer camp. After reading this review, I’m now planning to stop at the little bookstore near the college campus where they play to pick up a copy. Maybe then I’ll scrap the long list of tedious to-dos and sit still with my new book. Between you and Lindsey and Katrina, how could I possibly go wrong?
Pointing out the subtle, undisturbed excellence in someone’s work is a gift. Pointing out how this excellence unfolds against the background of living in contrapunctum is suggesting what grace is made of. Thank you.
Oh, your words are just so perfect, and evoke the experience I too had reading Don’t Miss This. I adore Jena’s poetry – and Jena herself!! – and think you’ve captured exquisitely the grace and fearlessness (as you say) at the heart of both. xoxo
Lovely review of this book that I must now read!
I can’t wait to read this!
Hi Shelby, you won Jena’s book! Congratulations! I’ll email you to get your address and send it off.
Synchronicity, that we were both reading and writing about Jena’s book at the same time. Your eloquent words make me want to go right back and read it again. You and she are BOTH wonderful; not surprised you connected so deeply.
Like Christa, I need this in my hands asap. After Thursday, one way or another, it will be on its way here. 🙂
How is it, Pam, that you can give these books away? Your generosity amazes me. Not just in giving away the books, but in giving away your deepest fears and intimate thoughts.
When I read your blog above, I’m appropriately awed and taken aback by Jena’s ability to put beautiful words to he familiar struggles, but what gets me…is you, Pam. How do you call someone you’ve never met and invite them to go running with you? How do you muster the self confidence?
Keep writing for us. Keep running. And keep being so brave!
Pamela, I came here by way of my friend, Kristen, at Motherese, but I also follow Katrina and Lindsey and happened to read their reviews of what sounds like a marvelous book. Kristen and I have had the opportunity to meet twice, and much like you described your meeting with Jena, it is always like sitting down with an old friend, even though we met only recently-ish through our blogs. Regardless of whether I win it here or not, I’m definitely going to read this book!
Wow. Sometimes you just get the gift at exactly the right moment. Reading this today was one of those gifts. I imagine that reading the book Jena’s book will be many of those moments strung together. Over and over a lifetime of reading and rereading. Discovering something new each time.
i would love a chance to win…i cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of jena’s sacred words and dig in.
Lovely review of what must be a lovely book. Thanks.
So very grateful. Though we might have to go back to three miles next time…
“we discussed what living authentically means, how much courage that takes, and how confusing it can be, how difficult it is to determine if we are doing it right.”
I know that feeling after the meal ends and the tears want to fall.