Wild Goose Poetry Review, No 33, Fall 2017
Jennifer Horne is well traveled, and her experience overseas undoubtedly contributed to Little Wanderer, a collection of poems themed around a journey across continents and through cultures vastly different from one another. The book is nearly guaranteed to captivate those who have traveled themselves, but even more importantly, the empathy of anyone who has felt a longing to experience something more.
Little Wanderer manages to capture for its readers a world far beyond the expanse of its pages. From the ancient cities of Greece to the more modern environment of England, each poem conveys the complexities of the world and its inhabitants in sometimes startling contrasts: expectation and disappointment, mythology and reality, the dark reaches of human nature and the good that remains, all framed by the need to leave the places we love, even if only to find a reason to return home.
The first and last poems provide the clearest and perhaps most significant summary of the journey that lies between them through their contrast. “Principles of Flight” begins the book with a feeling of innocence and the safety of home.
“I have been practicing
the etiquette of the traveler,
the grace of a grateful guest
as she takes her leave.”
The speaker has “been practicing,” but has never experienced the true nature of travel. What she has imagined is only that, a fanciful dream of what is expected. True experience, it will soon be learned, is rarely like dreams. Even as she prepares for the departure, she can barely wait to return to the feeling of safety being left behind.
“Here is the resolution
to my headstrong departure:
Leaving, I savor the thought
of return to our soft bed.”
The speaker’s departure takes her first to the South, Greece, with high expectations. However, the realities presented leave the speaker with a bitter feeling of disappointment. Disenchantment permeates the speaker’s Grecian experience, which is woven beautifully together with tales of mythology that speak to the same emotion. Anticipation, with its smoke and mirrors, could not be lived up to.
After the South comes the East, Romania and the surrounding areas. There the speaker’s journey travels even further from what she dreamed. Tales of torture and war challenge her perceptions and bring her, perhaps for the first time, to an understanding of how different the lives of others are from her own. Amid the newfound knowledge of the terrible situations many people face daily are the confusing, sometimes disconcerting, responses of others: support, apathy, acceptance, all failing to change reality at all.
The North holds England for the speaker’s enjoyment, but expectations have already been crushed and different viewpoints vie for attention within the speaker’s mind. England becomes a place of growth, of learning how to move forward. What the speaker has seen cannot be unseen, all that remains is figuring out where to go from here. Home.
In “A Poem for Leaving,” the final poem, it becomes apparent that the accumulation of experiences has forever altered the speaker’s perception of both travel and the world. She has traveled to the disappointment dealt with in the South, through the dark reaches of human nature encountered in the East, discovered how to live with that experience in the North, and finally returned home, the West. The sense of innocence has been lost, and the memories of the journey will forever haunt the speaker.
“We’re under your fingernails,
lodged in your throat,
you’ve got this red dirt
running through your blood.
We know you won’t forget us –
it’s too late for that…”
The truths of the darker aspects of life, and the people they affect, have been revealed, and they cannot be ignored. However, Horne does not let her readers forget that it is not all bad. This journey of light and dark ends with a simple statement, a poignant reminder of what the speaker believes is worth remembering.
“Travel’s coordinates are distance and time,
little things, really, small matters,
next to love’s bright lines.”