Double Jinx, by Nancy Reddy
Runestone, Volume 2
Reviewed by Courtney Baldrige
Double Jinx is the debut book of poetry from Nancy Reddy. Reddy is well educated in the craft, having earned and MFA and PhD in composition and rhetoric from the University of Wisconsin, and it shows. Her poems can turn on a dime and back again, leaving the reader to wonder over the masterful associative leaps. Each word is carefully placed and shows Reddy’s knowledgeable grasp on the use of language.
Many of the poems in Double Jinx make great use of white space with their own patterns of indentation. The varying forms throttle the reader faster or slower through the works. “Genealogy” is a one-line poem that takes full advantage of white space, allowing the reader to stop and consider the weight of a single line. Though many of the poems are free form, or in a form of the author’s own invention, there are also a few well executed formal poems.
Reddy includes a sestina (“Fire Plan”) and a sonnet crown (“Our Wilderness Period”) in the collection, which highlights her ability to both work within the conventions of form as well as to break form to further elevate language. The reader may be well into these poems before they even realize they are reading, and enjoying, formal verse. The repetitions are never heavy-handed or obvious, varying just enough to keep the words from going stale.
The book is organized into four parts—each with a slightly different tone and theme—connected by some common threads that emerge throughout all sections of this poetry collection. There is an underlying, interior feminine hunger or desire, which is in constant conflict with the world at large and its masculine assertions, expectations, and violations, communicated through religion and romance. At the crux of this conflict is the female body.
In a poem entitled “Lent,” Reddy writes: “I had learned in church: to be bodied / was to be sinful.” It is through the lens of these various sins and flaws that we experience the collection. Readers are left to navigate the oscillating guilt and indignation of feminine life.
Reddy draws from many sources as inspiration. She weaves science, history, theology, mythology, fairy tales, and even Nancy Drew together to illustrate a complex consciousness of femininity, desire, and fear of abandonment and loss. Some poems feature public theatrics, where the speaker is viewing or participating in a performance meant to be seen. Moments of private theatrics, scenes viewed secretly through windows and behind closed doors, are compelling insights into the interior lives of not only those being watched, but also those doing the watching. Tender moments, glanced through the window while crouching in the yard, highlight the longing to be in someone else’s shoes.
She’s in your town now. You’re in her hair.
One quick slit and you’re in the space inside
her skin. You hold your breath then whisper.
You thumb the ligaments. You kick the tires.
(from “The Case of the Double Jinx”)
By using Nancy Drew as a character, with whom the author shares a first name, the idea of switching places or mistaken identity becomes an interesting factor in the book. In an interview with Memorious, Reddy touches on why she was drawn to Nancy Drew’s character:
I grew up in a family that valued ladylike behavior in its women, and perhaps Nancy is appealing because she’s always pushing at the edge of that … She’s always the smartest woman in the room, always the propulsive lead in her own story.
With an infusion of magic and a strong handle of language, Nancy Reddy has created a book that cracks readers open and reveals something new each time it is read. “Her story rises / like woodsmoke / from these fractures.”
Courtney Baldrige is a poet and recent graduate of Hamline University. In addition to her passion for writing and the written word, Courtney also enjoys her work with elementary students and volunteering at a cat shelter.