Relic and Myth by Jeanne Julian


Relic and Myth is a collection of narratives. Characters include an 11-year-old diarist, a transplant patient, and a hip-hop princess.

The author shed the skin of an Ohioan who went to church every Sunday as she moved from the heartland to Massachusetts, and then to North Carolina. She has traveled in all fifty states. Some of this questing spirit appears in the poems. They have an American feel, as they move from a Native American pueblo to the nation’s capital to a Southern quilt show.

This journey allows the reader to share in the transformative experience of creating meaning. The simplest things—a coin, a daffodil bulb, a pendant on an old woman’s necklace—become sources of rethinking. Is this how religion is born?: as the American Transcendentalist Frederic Henry Hedge said, “assume that the world without depends on the nature of our intuitions.” That is perhaps the experience of poets whose work is founded to any extent upon observation. Maybe the poem that exemplifies this “process” the most is “The Museum of Lightning-Struck Objects.” The clutter in a woman’s purse is perceived by a child as magical, as magical as invisible signals sent into the universe by ham radio (pre-dating cyberspace!): “zap extrapolated from within.”

A shadow of aging and mortality deepens the book, like the ticking clock that marks time in the artist’s studio filled with dusty objects meant to inspire. There’s also a steady awareness of how hard it is to know what’s going on inside of others, family and strangers alike. Do we ever stop being The Child enough to understand our parents outside of that role? Can tourists “get” the lives of those in the places they visit? Can a husband and wife bridge the emotional gap imposed by a life-or-death struggle with disease?

Nonetheless, you can ignore the themes of personal trial and spiritual invention in this collection, and just let it amuse you. A woman perceives a virile running youth as the grown version of a glowing garden geegaw. A quilt is dedicated to an 88-year-old aunt “who can shag with the best of them.” Another aging woman hints that turning men into stone, like Medusa, “might be useful.” The description of a contemporary hip-hop celebrity is just made for chanting.

Much of the language of the poems is conversational, but also offers music through a sensitivity to sound and structure. There is the order of even stanzas—in one poem (“Shells”), the five- lined stanzas reflect the five-member family it describes. But there is also the urgent rush of “Made” and of “Capital,” which is one breathless sentence.

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