London Grip Poetry Review – Jane Le Croy


Poetry review – SPELLBOOK OF ORDINARY MISTAKES: Charles Rammelkamp is drawn into the life experiences which inspire Jane LeCroy’s poems


Spellbook of Ordinary Mistakes
Jane LeCroy
Pink Trees Press Press, 2024
ISBN: 979-8989869527
128 pages     $20.00

In the poem, “Possible Titles for My Autobiography,” Jane LeCroy offers a variety of droll, often self-deprecating possibilities, starting with ‘Mysterious Punishments’ and including such titles as ‘Consequences of Tragic Superpowers,’ ‘No Great Expectations’ and ‘No Regrets, Not Sorry.’ ‘Spellbook of Ordinary Mistakes’ is another midway through the poem. So yes, this collection is autobiographical, but it’s also philosophical and lyrical and, as this poem admirably demonstrates, witty, playful, and even comic.

There are poems about her childhood (“Cactus,” “View-Master,” “Wonderful,” “More Halloween,” “Honeysuckle,” “Childhood Games,” and “Where Are They Now” among them), and there are poems about her mother (“A Generous Impulse”) and her grandparents (“Bread and Butter,” “Cactus,” “Shed,” “Rain Bonnet,” “Life During Wartime,” “In the Desert”). There are poems about her sad, drug-addicted father (“Father’s Day,” “The Old Fashioned,” “In Their Early 50s,” “Dying Wishes” – ‘He’s holding a beer, in most every memory I have of him’ – “Perennials,” “Estate Sale” and others). But LeCroy is like Walt Whitman – ‘I contain multitudes’ – and is more than the sum of her timeline. As she writes in “Self-Study”:

            I have been so many
            to so many 
            things I wanted 
            and things they’d tell me

           I’ll say yes to you
           mother mystery 
           grateful for my arms
           and armies

Or, as she concludes the poem “Wrong,” which begins ‘Eventually, you find out you were wrong / about everything’:

           We become and keep becoming 
            because we’re wrong.

That is to say, we may get a glimpse of the Jane LeCroy who grew up in Nyack, New York, in the shadow of the Tappan Zee Bridge looming in the distance; but the real Jane LeCroy is as elusive as the butterfly we think we’ve captured when we pin it to a board. For there are always contradictory impulses at work – such is the paradox of life. She concludes the poem, “Do All Roads Lead Home?” with the observation ‘The poisons we grow up with / become the poultices of the soul,’ a thought she echoes later at the end of “Pink”: ‘What makes life so lovely, / poisons us too.’ And yet again she concludes the poem “More Halloween”by telling us ‘Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat. / Both. It’s always both.’

More to the point, Jane LeCroy is more about a vision of time and love than about chronicling her life. This is not a hippie cliché but an enduring insight. She begins the poem “Love” by reminding us

            Love hurts it smarts it makes you stupid 
            it pains pricks pounds pierces punches
            makes you sick horny happy hungry full 
            it hurts the worst it hurts the best

She goes on for several more verses elaborating the trials and challenges of love before concluding, ‘and if you try to avoid it you get ugly and mean / give in given give love you know what I mean.’ Indeed, we get her drift, in poems like “How to Be a Pioneer of Love” (‘Reject belief in a limited capacity of the human heart’), “The Price of Love is War” (‘Love is the darkness, Love is the light’), “Even” (‘…Love, you don’t choose Love / can’t control Love still, still you…’) and the lovely villanelle “This Proves My Love.’ Love surrounds us, embraces us.

Just as Mary Oliver famously asked, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ so Jane LeCroy approaches our fleeting existence with the same urgent sense of carpe diem. ‘You never get back time, and it’s all we have,’ she writes in “Lion’s Den,” and in “The Wanting” she reminds us ‘this scant space of time here is all we have / to love with.’

So many of the love poems are plainly erotic, such as “To Dye Your Heart” (‘Love is free but can you afford it?’) “King of the Sea” (‘his liquid trickling out of me’), “X” (‘We would kiss until our faces were raw … those kisses, they are eternal, we were drinking / each other, eating each other, loving each other / worshipping each other…’), “Fine Night” (‘…I could go into your skin, / drench myself in / you…’), “How We Prey”:

            I think it’s the sex
            that makes me love you so much,
            but it’s afterward when we talk… 

In this spirit of love, of gratitude for the world that we inhabit, are the odes LeCroy has written to various unremarkable objects, things we take for granted, songs of praise for the piano, for a shed, for sheets, for the letters B and L (‘L, you’re in Love and Lust and Luck / in cursive you loop, loaded, lush, legendary…’), for the theremin, an electronic musical instrument you play without touching. You feel the genuine affection she has for these things and ideas, even for lies. LeCroy writes in “Tell Lies”:

            Just lie, to protect the people you love
            from pain.
            Just lie, to protect yourself,
            it’s so easy to disappoint people.
            Just tell them what they want to hear, lies!

In “La Petite Mort” – a phrase that refers to orgasm – she asks,

            What is man but his problems?
            A lifetimeline of mistakes.

Indeed, this spellbook spells them all out, the mistakes, the misdeeds, and we relish them, exult in them. In “Your Destination,” a poem ostensibly about driving home alone in the fog, only GPS for companionship and guide, LeCroy writes, ‘I made it, despite all my mistakes and the emptiness / that fills me.’