by Lindsey Grutchfield
Jeanne Weston Cook’s new book of poetry, “Stunned By Illumination,” is a deeply personal work, oftentimes overtly reflecting the inner monologue of the author. Where it really shines, however, is when the author shifts her attention outside of herself, outside of her own opinions, to the starkly beautiful world around her. Likewise, the most elegant poems in “Stunned By Illumination” are the simpler ones, where every word is clearly thought out. When these two things combine, the simple lines have a quality almost reminiscent of a free verse Emily Dickinson.
Though Cook is clearly capable of great things with her poetry, “Stunned By Illumination” is far from flawless. The author’s longer poems tend to be a free flowing stream of consciousness, and read more like a diary entry than published poetry. Likewise, Cook’s attempts to capture the spirit of her European travels (of which there are many) often fall short, being dense and a bit pedantic. It is back on this side of the pond where her poetry really shines. In her depictions of the New England countryside, Cook brilliantly captures the spare, almost gothic spirit of the place, and awakens in the reader a longing for “factory and church spires, trees/pinned against the bloody sky.” Here, where “wind would sing across stone-cropped fields,/through chinks in the walls of old Puritan farmhouses,” “Stunned by Illumination” finds its perfect niche.
At its best, “Stunned By Illumination” is elegant and crisp, each word carefully planned and executed. Even when Cook is not at her best, her writing shows great potential. Were all of her writing as refined as her simpler works, she would be a poetic force to be reckoned with. As it is, her work is successful, if occasionally somewhat hit and miss. As for “Stunned by Illumination,” it is more than worth a read, in particular for the few real gems that lie among the perfect good poetry that makes up the vast majority of the collection.