A Look at Holland Poet Jackie Bartley and Her Book Ordinary Time

Jackie Bartley’s smooth style of writing illuminated with surprising metaphors and heartfelt emotions is not the kind of writing one would expect from a woman with Bachelor Degrees in biology and medical technology. Bartley’s work as a medical technologist for fifteen years has influenced her writing in several poems, most notably “The Cutting Board,” where flowing phrases are interspersed with stanzas of fierce precision.
The subject matter in Bartley’s poems range from her family to museums to seasons; some are serious, others lighthearted; all are enjoyable. In Bartley’s most recent book, Ordinary Time (Spire Press, 2007), the author explores the life cycle of the human race beginning with “In The Rooms Where We’re Born,” which contains a collection of poems that reflect the poet as the person she is today. The poem “The Cutting Board” explores the poets evolving relationship with her mother through her mother’s favorite pastime, sewing. Their family didn’t have a dining room table so they “laid the cutting board out in her bedroom, cardboard wings unfolded worked to lie flat the length of her bed.” The poet is in awe of her mother’s precision with sewing and admires her dedication to the hobby. Their mother-daughter relationship becomes strained over the years when Bartley fails under “her mother’s scrutiny,” but both women persevere and become able to make the other proud, learning through experience that “what matters most is a feel for the work.”
The second section of the book Ordinary Time follows a middle-aged Jackie Bartley, married and questioning her life. This section of the book focuses on poems about children, as if Bartley is acutely aware of aging and, although she appears to be content, would like to feel young again. The poem “Three Drops of Blood" chronicles her job as as a nurse who draws blood from new borns. “It hurt to do this, but also felt strangely tonic. A strong reaction meant alive, alert.” She compares working with the babies to being in a nature conservatory, “the infants’ skin warm, slightly damp, plant-like.” She goes on to compare the drawing of blood from a baby’s foot to the butterflies leaking of blood from its wings to be able to fly. “And so it was, again, strange comfort to know these famous insects, in their transformation from larvae to delicate-winged beings, had also to shed a few drops of blood before they took to air.”
“Holy Orders” resurrects the vibrancy and sorrow that accompanies a contradictory South American life. “At Margaret’s House in Yatamoco” follows the journey of a boy with a broken toe caused by his brother “not yet old enough to believe in gravity.” The boy’s pain grew to be so fierce that his parents dipped a rag in kerosene, wrapped it around his toe and set it on fire. The obvious cultural differences cause one to cringe upon learning the boy’s fate, yet as the poem continues, it admits “many people hobbled on ill formed feet…These, they said, had known fire and been blessed.” Bartley uses Margaret as a subject of another of her poems, “Holy Orders” to express the hierarchy of the church. Sister Margaret administers the sacraments to the residents of Yatamoco throughout the rainy season when the priest “sits praying in his chapel.” The contradiction of the priest who believes he is serving the people by praying and the service of Sister Margaret in all weather brings forth the age-old struggle between those who think about serving others and those who carry out the service.
The book concludes with the final chapter “Song Before Loss,” the author’s attempt at understanding the hardships of life. The poem “Song Before Loss” compares the author’s mother, ailing from dementia, to the song a finch must memorize in the first weeks that it is born in order to survive. The beauty of a fisherman casting his line into the water over and over again “adds a new notation to the song” that everyone is born knowing and is destined to eventually forget. “Daughters of the Divine Redeemer” is one of the few light-hearted poems bundled into the book; this poem expresses the joy of fourth graders completing a simple task, washing their desks, at the end of the school year. When they “turned their backs on the agony of learning” even “Jesus, bloodied on his cross above the cursive alphabet seemed lighter” and when the task of washing the desks was complete, they returned home, “swinging empty buckets in the air.”
Jackie Bartley has the unique gift of being able to recognize beauty in the most ordinary of objects. She has established an emotional connection with her readers that allows her to take them on a journey throughout the past and into the future with thought provoking themed poems. Bartley is not afraid to take risks and describe a sidewalk as “a cement cup filling with sun.” Her poetry runs deep with emotion and passion; she yearns for the past yet at the same time anticipates the future with a firm grasp on her memories, “the heavy beautiful stone we carry like a scapular around our neck.”

Works by Jackie Bartley

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.