A new review by Dianna Henning, of “A Journey of Two Writers-By Heart” by Judith Tannenbaum & Spoon Jackson is available at: http://www.themontserratreview.com/bookreviews/aJourney.html and can be reached from either the What’s New or the Book Reviews page. Check it out.
The Broken Bone Tongue
Dianna MacKinnon Henning
By Kel Munger
This article was published on 04.08.10.
Local poet Dianna MacKinnon Henning’s second book, The Broken Bone Tongue, finds articulate and lush language in the natural world, where everyday encounters—whether with deer in the forest or potatoes in the kitchen—open up avenues for exploration of grief, loss, discovery, solitude. The title poem kicks off a series of poems about bones and tongues, leading to the moment of awareness in “For the God of All Bones”: “your breath backed up / because you never realized / how going after one thing / brought about something entirely different.” This element of surprised discovery holds true for even the most mundane things, as that staple food of working people becomes an open door to art in “The Holiness of Potatoes”: “Even the earth-worm knows the richness / of tubers cloaked in their drab burqas, / how all things wrap into something for comfort.” The Broken Bone Tongue can be ordered at Black Buzzard Press, www.blackbuzzardpress.com.
Book Review: The Broken Bone Tongue by Dianna Henning
Dianna Henning’s title poem begins with these words: There were things she could say/and things she couldn’t say . . . . Her new book, The Broken Bone Tongue, contains the things Henning can and does say with an eloquent honesty. Her theme of bones ripples through the pages with an expert’s observation, like her butcher’s cleaver, her intentions exact.
Bones are an appropriate theme for Henning’s collection; she takes the meat off of relationships, leaves the reader with the bare and sparse feel of bones left in the desert, bleached of all pretension. From the butcher’s apprentice “wiping his bloodied hands across his white cotton apron,” to shaking hands with her own tongue, we are asked to intimately share Henning’s unique view of the world she inhabits.
Henning offers us other images, of animals and man, but her poems featuring bones, the ones where she tells her deepest truths, where she uncovers the tenderness and temporality of the body, are the ones we will return to for comfort, for understanding. We are haunted especially by the poem “Instructions for Cleaning the Aphrodisiac Bone,” a short two-stanza poem we have previously published in Tiger’s Eye, consisting of a rare and fragile beauty. We reprint the entire last stanza here, as one line is not enough to exhibit the delicacy of Henning’s imagery.
Place your mouth flush to the bone’s hollow center,
call out the creature it was in real life,
its ghost reminiscent of a god.
Notice how it stares at you, as though all bodies
began as eyes, form following sight.
We recommend this book to our readers, and hope you will experience the same sense of wonder we have whenever reading Dianna Henning’s work.
Colette & JoAn, Editors
Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry
Review of The Tenderness House, Sacramento News & Review, 2004
The lifeblood of poetry has always been the small press, and the Sacramento area is lucky enough to have a boatload of these little gems. One of the most prolific is the Stockton-based Poet’s Corner Press, run by David Humphreys and a group of his fellow poets. The latest book from Poet’s Corner is The Tenderness House by Dianna Henning.
Henning has a very elegiac quality to her writing: death, crows, grief and longing. That probably could be said of most poetry, but in this case, there’s also a very subtle sense of self-ironizing awareness. For example, in “Jump-Off Joe Creek,” which examines the story behind the oddly named Oregon stream, Henning takes an inward turn: “but finally, / like Joe on the bridge, you must select / one life and hold it like flint underneath your tongue, / something made in the shape of an arrow.”
Review by Dr. Richard Logsdon, in part, of The Tenderness House, published by Poets’ Corner Press ‘04, Stockton, CA. Published in The Red Rock Review
Richly Woven Lament: A Review of Dianna Henning’s The Tenderness House, Stockton, CA: Poets’ Corner Press, 2004.
The Tenderness House, a recently published collection of poems by Dianna Henning, reveals a life passionately yet tenderly embraced by a poet who integrates a keen apprehension of life’s beauty, expressed in rich imagery and subtle puns, with an almost painful awareness of the brevity of existence. Indeed, the joyful tenderness contained in so many of these poems is tempered by a melancholy that, in this critic’s mind, moves this collection to the level of a richly woven lament. It is upon this level that Henning’s poetry can be most fully appreciated, for almost every line in The Tenderness House is tempered by a sadness borne of the conviction that life is a glorious though fleeting essence that can most expertly be captured in art.
One of Henning’s pieces that most eloquently captures this aesthetic is “Bottle Blessers”:
An early winter breeze sweeps leaves into chaos. I think of the bottle blessers, Seventeenth Century settlers, who dried herbs, and poured laurel, mint, tarragon, into a pleasing arrangement, then capped, and tied lavender strands around the bottles neck, their gift blessings for neighbors. Earlier, I’d tromped over duff for sage, Scotch-broom, bitterbrush, and tiny shoots I’d snipped at their base. As I poked stem, small branches of Manzanita into twig form, wove them in and out so the wind wouldn’t unravel their fragile hold, darkening skies spoke of snow. Whatever the weather will hurl onto the porch my wreath will feel, and I, warm inside my home will know it too as harsh winds knock.
This is a splendid poem, laced with subtle rhymes and alliteration and packed with vivid images that demands that it be read on the literal and symbolic levels. And once the reader makes the metaphorical leap, the truth emerges: offered as blessings to the reader, Henning’s poems delicately interweave with each other and form a fragile barrier against the harsh winds that threaten to rob us of our memories of life’s most wonderful moments….
….Given life’s harsh winds, Henning reminds that we should seek and treasure those moments of passion, community, and transcendence, for these instances will sustain us in our darkest hours—indeed, when all is said and done, those moments may be all that we can take from this brief life. In “Between Water,” for instance, a man relegated to caring for his wife finds strength in the memory of an afternoon they spent long before on a river:
He resurfaces into how they stood
Knee deep in the lower falls
Of the river, the graceful civility
Between those long accustomed to one another.
Again, in one particularly powerful poem, titled “The Possible,” Henning speculates that our hope of something glorious and beyond or mortality—a hope aesthetically rendered—may carry us as it fulfills one of our deepest spiritual longs:
Imagine the star-glittered phosphorescence
our decay initiates,
how there in the dusk of burial
what seems irretrievably lost
begins to assume life,
the body, in its ability to change,
becoming an empire…
Henning’s book is filled with poems that resonate with the joy and melancholy of living and that are framed by her knowledge that “Everything perishes as though it were moth-wing./Only ripe memory of falling apples endure–/the way we once bit into each other” (from “Ripe”). With this in mind, her aesthetic becomes a kind of spirituality, for she seems to be telling us that the key to fully living lies in tenderly embracing those moments of connectedness, transcendence, and passion when they do occur and in holding on to the fragile memories of those experiences as best we can.
Review for: The Broken Bone Tongue, Reviewed by Marilyn Jurich
In coming to Dianna Henning’s poems, the reader is continually surprised—everything is alive, has a significant presence, and resonates beyond the page. The Adirondack chairs (in the poem by the same title) actually communicate their feelings:
their longing spread between armrests,
soft currents of breath
floating upwards between them.
In another poem, “To Canoe the Possible/Face the Direction of travel” the object, this canoe, which has been made with love, becomes part of its maker who offers “the quiet turned in the paddle of the hand.” This “canoeness” reverberates and transforms: “lovers with their canoe bodies/skidding over the pliant sheets.”
In Henning’s poetic universe, all things and beings are conjoined; one poem begins, “There was the deer I wanted to be and the deer I couldn’t be.” As the poet watches the injured doe and her new-birthed fawn, she cannot retreat from the immanence of the doe’s death. She shares both that tragedy and glory: “I could smell the scent of solitude inside myself.” How the sacred bond between human and animal has severed “the wholeness of the world,” she reveals in “Animal Mission.” It is this wholeness she means to recover through her poems.
Several poems discuss the poet and her making of the poem, such as “The Broken Bone Tongue” which recognizes how the poet must speak to the immediacy of life, or what she experiences and fails to record will wither and fail to be roused.” What remains are “only bones…their marrow dry.” Yet, it is apparent that Henning has retrieved what matters to herself and to her reader; the bone, used symbolically in many of her poems, is not only what remains after “the flesh” disappears, but is what exists now as memory and possibility.
Other images vibrate for their sensuous expression, as well as for their transcendent evocations. In “Advent of Dark When the Day,” the poet speaks of young love and a love-making that extends through the night: “Sunshine/blistered on water and the ocean’s brazen spears/of rainbow pierced the sky.” Often, as in “Fleshing the Tongue,” Henning constructs dramatic scenarios; she also imagines whimsical conversations, such as those in “The Grace Kingdom.” Many poems, like “Instructions For Cleaning the Aphrodisiac Bone” can be daring and audacious; some, notably “A Journey to the Father on the Gurney” are heart-wrenching. What Henning reveals in the most persuasive of these poems are the truths that arise through our attempts and abilities to connect with all that surrounds us. Our participation in these poems as readers frequently becomes a redemptive experience.
-Marilyn Jurich, Associate Professor of English, Suffolk University, Boston, author of Defying the Eye Chart (2008), a collection of poems and Scheherazade’s Sisters, Trickster Heroines and Their Stories in World Literature.
BLURBS & ENDORSEMENTS
“In the tradition of Robert Bly’s “leaping poetry”, Dianna Henning’s work leaps. Takes chances, yet is grounded in a story-like quality that draws the reader in. From her early surreal driven poems, her work has, over the years, matured into the poetry of particulars. “Camouflage may be the angel’s art” according to Henning, but it is also the poet’s art. To hide images and ideas well enough to bring them to life. Dianna Henning does that as well as anyone.”
-Thomas Rain Crowe, Editor of Writing the Wind: The New Celtic Poetry, Poet & Publisher of New Native Press
“The inventive poems of Dianna Henning are full of lovely and startling convergences. In this rich collection the reader finds playfulness and sexuality, tenderness and loss. Both provocative and humbling, these poems represent an artist with an enormous heart and a fine, riveted eye.”
-Joelle Fraser author of The Territory of Men, A Memoir
“In coming to Dianna Henning’s poems, the reader is continually surprised—everything is alive, has a significant presence, and resonates beyond the page. In Henning’s poetic universe, all things and beings are conjoined; one poem begins, “There was the deer I wanted to be and the deer I couldn’t be.” What Henning reveals in the most persuasive of these poems are the truths that arise through our attempts and abilities to connect with all that surrounds us. Our participation in these poems as readers frequently becomes a redemptive experience.”
-Marilyn Jurich author of Defying the Eye Chart