Monday, July 4, 2011

Jean Janzen

Jean Janzen was born in Saskatchewan in 1933. When her father became a Mennonite pastor, the family moved to Minnesota, and later to Kansas. When first married, she and her husband moved to Chicago, and eventually they settled in Fresno, California. All of these places, her love of music and art, and her Mennonite heritage are strongly reflected in Janzen’s poetry. Emily Dickinson was an early influence, long before Jean considered becoming a poet herself.

She is the author of six collections, the most recent of which is Paper House (Good Books). In Radix, Luci Shaw recently wrote, “These are poems to be read aloud, loved and lived into repeatedly. Though she has titled the book Paper House, this is no fragile, empty shell, but a sturdy and satisfying piece of architecture.” The following poem comes from Jean Janzen’s 1995 collection Snake in the Parsonage.

Sometimes Hope

The mountainsides blazed
for weeks, ashes falling
on our heads as we stood
in the hazy air.
And then our son came home
with his blackened gear
and slept for days.
He had fought fire with fire
to do the impossible.
Now we see it, the giant
black slash with stumps
in grotesque postures,
acres and acres where nothing
moves or sings, where
nothing waits.

But sometimes hope
is a black ghost
in a fantastic twist,
an old dream that flickers
in the wind.
Not the worried twining
of selfish prayers, but
a reach for something
extravagant, something holy,
like fire itself,
which in its madness
devours the forest for the sky,
and then dreams a new greening,
shoots everywhere breaking
through the crust of ash.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: