Jewel Kilcher was the first to admit that this book of 100 or so of her poems would not have been published if her dazzling debut album, Pieces of You, hadn't sold 10 million copies. And granted, Jewel is not going to replace Deborah Garrison's A Working Girl Can't Win on anybody's hit parade of serious poets who write for regular people.
But--shockingly!--Jewel's book of poetry is solid by celeb-poet standards, and a fair bit of it is actually sort of readable in its own right. Maybe it's not a bad idea to raise your kids on an 80-acre Alaskan farm with plenty of chores and no TV, as Mr. Kilcher did. Unlike most young people, let alone overnight stars, Jewel has led a life of some intrinsic interest. While they're often prosaically straightforward, her poems about rescuing a newborn calf in the midnight snow, listening to wolves howl in a canyon storm, and racing naked out of a sauna of a winter evening bring us more useful experience than kid poets usually have to share. Some of Jewel's homesteading verse is no worse than some of Gary Snyder's late nature poems; though she'll never write nature poems remotely as good as his early work Riprap, neither will he, probably. Preachiness is the enemy of both poets' deep religious impulses.
Jewel's poems about dumping a lover or thrilling to parking-lot sex "between the moon and a Chevrolet" are perceptive, at points even evocative. Her ode to her own breasts as a nest for her beloved is no good, but it's an honest failure. Her dress at the Oscars was more embarrassing.
The music critics contend that Jewel's music is influenced by Joni Mitchell, though Jewel claims she didn't listen to her until lately. In comparing Joni Mitchell: The Complete Poems and Lyrics with Jewel's book, we find that both use the image of the cactus for a heart that resists a restricting embrace, but that Mitchell is cleverer with language. When Joni's lover is away, "Me and them lonesome blues collide / The bed's too big, / The frying pan's too wide." Meanwhile, Jewel baldly observes, "I miss you miserably, dear / and I can't quite manage / to face this unbearably / large bed / alone."
On the other hand, Jewel does conclude with a nice image for toughing it out with a sentimental gesture--she shaves her armpits with his razor and cheap hotel soap. Ow! We feel her pain. Also, Jewel's "Underage" holds its own against Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery," while demonstrating the influence that probably outweighed Mitchell in Jewel's artistic development: her dad, with whom she played gigs as a child in Alaska.
I hung out once in the bathroom of Trade Winds Harley bar in Anchorage
With several biker chicks for company until the cops had left.
They had pale skin and thick black eye makeup
And they asked me to sing at their weddings.
I said I'd ask my dad.
We all sat on the counter and waited for the pigs to leave.
Some guy OD'd and was outside foaming at the mouth.
I remember looking in the mirror
And seeing this white face,
My shirt all buttoned up.
The women were nice to me
And looked like dark angels
Beside me. I liked them,
And together we waited
Patiently for the cops to leave
So I could go back out
And join my dad up
The great peril for Jewel, as for most poets when very young, is artless sincerity. Her poem about her dad's Vietnam War trauma is dead sentiment, but she does far better in "Grimshaw," about a Vietvet who came to watch the Kilchers play, perpetually requesting "Ain't Goin' to Study War No More" and drinking four quarts of beer a night until the day he shot his face off. Which made little Jewel vow to deal with her own emotions sooner rather than too late.
Careless editing permitted Jewel to misspell the names of Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski and the word "peek." Most young fans won't notice, and the very poems about love troubles that older readers will find gratingly obvious will strike them as headline news to be taken to heart. --Tim Appelo [via]