A Review of One Step to Keeping a Clean Gun by Jessica Ankeny (Dancing Girl Press, 2013)
Jessica Ankeny's first chapbook, One Step to Keeping a Clean Gun, is a slim and haunting volume. The chapbook alternates between a formal, reserved narrative style, and one both intimate and raw. The tension this creates is wonderful.
The poems are preoccupied with guns, a romantic relationship, death, and injury. They are infused with tension and tenderness.
It is a powerful chapbook.
Jessica Ankeny's writing is deceptively simple and straightforward. Because of this fact, the title, One Step to Keeping a Clean Gun, manages to convey a lot, in terms of both style and content.
The first poem, The Problem With Guns Is, is simple but surprising in its approach. The only stanza break is perfectly placed, and each word appears to be chosen carefully. The poem is powerful but also efficient, including the title, it is only 39 words in length. Like a good first poem should, it sets the stage tonally for the rest of book.
It is followed not by a traditional poem, but by a three page long glossary complete with diagrams. The Glossary adds weight to the slim volume. It helps ground the poems that follow. The glossary is written formally in the third person.
Many of the poems play with the lecturing style sometimes found both in instruction manuals and poems. A good example is the first two stanzas of How to Win an Argument. "First, get a gun/or, if you prefer, keep a bow and arrow close/ but don't get Zen about it. Then,/ find your target.//Alcohol helps with this."
One of Ankeney's strengths is starting off with a broad statement and then altering it, changing it into something personal and specific. A good example is the end of Between The Posts where she writes "There are two/ kinds of people:/ the boys invited/ and practicing/ their aim/and me, watching."
The Haunting, a poem about a pair of lovers and a lot of weaponry, covers a lot of the themes that resonate throughout the chapbook as a whole. Ankeney writes "The ghost of intimacy walks between our bodies." You can feel that ghost when you read the poem.
In Follow The Blood, Ankeney writes "Cartridge in the breech/ bullet first/the buck will run/out of energy that drips" and you understand what she is saying, not only because of the language she is using, but because of the energy she conveys through the line breaks she chooses. Thoughtful line and stanza breaks are found throughout the chapbook.
In fact one of the reasons I read it the first time in one siting, was because of the variation in line lengths and stanza lengths. The themes always felt fresh, each poem felt different but connected.
The reason the chapbook is so powerful is because the details come together in the right way. The theme is strong, the craft is strong, the ideas are strong, the language is compelling. It is for the most part simple language the resonates, that lingers with the reader, between readings, because this is the kind of chapbook that benefits from being read more than once.