Alice Jones divides The Knot into three sections. The first is a series of poems evoking the poet's painful and tender relationship with Peter, a former lover who is dying of AIDS. We encounter him first on a rainy day in his hospital bed at St. Vincent's ("The Umbrella"), and then through flash-backs to their earlier lives ("In the Pine Woods," "Painting," "Communal Living"). In the long poem "Blood Clot" the author creates and sustains a dynamism between detachment and engagement, objectivity and subjectivity, medical and personal knowledge: from "This time it's his heart. He has / a tumor" to "The glacier that / freezes us in place for centuries, / the same old separateness, only / this time it's called death. / How dare you do it to me / one more time."

The second, and most intensely personal, section imagines the poet's relationship with her mother. The title poem is the centerpiece here. In it, the knot has two faces: the tie that binds us together and an obstacle to be overcome. While loss is real, she writes, "I refuse to be alone. // There is only one / of us. Loss does not / exist in our vocabulary." ("The Lie") The last section consists of poems on a variety of topics, including a long poem about gross anatomy as an initiatory experience ("The Cadaver").


Alice Jones practiced internal medicine before completing further training in psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Her work is skillfully crafted, with a strong, consistent voice. The series of poems on her relationship with Peter is very effective--powerful, engaging, and not at all self-conscious. The poems on her mother are deeper, more analytic.

In these she consciously uses the unconscious to address "the knot" that ties and separates. Perhaps the weakest poem is the "The Cadaver," the poet's inquiry into the nature of medical knowledge and its relationship to subjectivity. The poem is less effective than others not for want of images and craftsmanship, but because too much is said: a poem with too many words.


Alice James

Place Published

Cambridge, Mass.