Memoirs take many forms, but few are as arresting as simple, honest poetry. J.A. Jance’s poetry collection, “After The Fire,” is on its third edition, and it’s easy to see why it has been so popular since its first outing in 1984. The themes may be complicated and heart-rending, but the delivery is that of unfettered emotion.
The poems mainly center around Jance’s marriage to her first husband, a man fighting (and sometimes not fighting) the demons of alcohol addiction. The emotions are raw and laid out plainly, mostly – Jance’s style is not over-the-top flowery or smacking of poetic ego. Her words evoke clearly the inner turmoil she went through, not just in the marriage but also in the aftermath of a painful divorce and eventual tragedy, coming out the other side with a reverent nod to emerging new hope.
Jance’s prose is conversational and again, honest, and her poetic structure doesn’t seem to follow any traditional rules – much to my delight. The pattern of some of her verses, where each sentence is cut to move to the next line, lends a jagged effect, which I can only imagine is how life was for her – sharp, uneven, and difficult to navigate.
This edition differs from previous versions in that Jance has written small passages of prose for each poem, explaining what was happening when she wrote each poem, how the events were shaping her life, and how her poetry grew and changed with her circumstances. Without these little windows of insight I probably could have dismissed this collection out of turn, perhaps not really understanding the depth of the words and the courage required to let it all out.
This is a collection that many will relate too, and many more will empathize with. Poetry is personal, and in that sense I find it hard to give this a mark out of five, but since I have to I’m going with four stars. There’s a lot to be said for honesty, and for sharing your story so that others don’t feel so alone.
After The Fire: A Memoir in Poetry and Prose
J. A. Jance
William Morrow (2013)
4 Stars – There’s a lot to be said for honesty