Gaps, Jenny Danes
Smith/Doorstop, 2017, £5.00
Gaps between languages
Jenny Danes’s pamphlet explores the definition of ‘gaps’ as ‘differences between views, situations, or ideas’ (Collins).
The lines from the title poem encapsulate the self-conscious choreography of steps through each other’s language that the speaker of the poem and her German partner undertake. These lines serve as an abstraction for the entire pamphlet:
[…] What is this complete
chance that you and I were brought up in different tongues?
How is it that we would name the same object or feeling differently
and always have done?
There is an assuredness of voice and technique at work here—many of the poems interrogate the world in which the poet finds herself:
From my sand-filled mouth
clauses trip and fall.
Dislocation is a key theme. As such, it is perhaps hard not to view these poems without the uncertainty of a post-Brexit Britain in mind. It is no accident that the poems open up into white space (there are very few full-stops at the end of Danes’s poems).
The poet is keenly alert to the nuances and comedy of translation and cultural intersection. The humour of lines such as these
I make three faux pas in a row
that are all to do with drinking
hints at the stereotype of the drunk British tourist abroad. In the penultimate poem, ‘Things I Left in Germany’, three of the items the poet lists are a ‘thicker skin,’ ‘a nostalgia for England’ and ‘a language I’ll slowly forget.’ There’s a refreshing clarity and honesty at work here.
At the end of the pamphlet, the poet’s playfulness reaches its pinnacle in ‘Deutsch’, a poem that riffs on untranslatable German idioms and sayings:
Oh but come and chat out of the little sewing box!
How deep is the sea? I am as happy as a snow king,
I’m on cloud seven, tousled and cosy with my tootle sack
Danes has a sharp ear and eye for detail, and Gaps is a startlingly assured debut.