Carolyn Jennings is a warm, friendly, and compassionate woman.
She lives in Colorado with her sweet husband, trunks of filled
journals and one bright shelf of books with blank pages.
Hunger Speaks mirrors her struggle with Binge Eating Disorder
(BED). It is even more common than Bulimia or Anorexia and
most persons with BED also suffer from mood disorders.1
Carolyn discovered that journaling helped her recover from
this debilitating illness. Within her journals, she found the book
she had wished for when in the throes of her illness. Feeling alone
in her struggle and knowing that others might benefit from her
techniques, she decided to share them with others by giving workshops.
Hunger Speaks, Jennings' first book, is unique in that it
is a memoir told in poetry. I found myself re-reading the poems in order
to explore the authorís expressive language and the many layers of
meaning. They appeal to the reader to embrace the healing power of
poetry. According to the author, The poems voice the pain and record
the way out. For her Hunger speaks in many tongues and codes. Each
poem is a slice of memory, a passing perception slanted through my
eyes… (p. 9, Introduction).
The cover illustration deserves our attention. Through color,
contour lines and gesture, the artist Rosanne Sterne conveys feelings of
tension and relief. Titled,
A Celebration of Life, it echoes Jenningsí poetry and use of the body within her poems.
The book is full of vivid, stark imagery. Hunger has a voice and, metaphorically, a hand.
Hunger Speaks is my hand reaching out to hold yours in the cradle of
understanding&hellips;Let your hunger speak to you, and let your recovery break you
open to beauty, strength, and peace (p. 15, Introduction).
Verbal imagery throughout the book is evident from the first poem titled, Sailing:
Solitary I lift this moment,
hold it to the light, turn it in my hands
as if it were a ship built inside a bottle
held upright by delicate filaments…(p. 17)
Her language flows like a river with silent waves. For example, from Marriage Rhythm:
In the dark, the rhythm of your breathing
cradles me, exhalation
like the candle of your words
when you open to me, inhalation
like the long legs of silence
when you listen (p. 22)
Delving into the poetís mind gives us a better understanding of our own
emotions and behaviors. Her poetic expression is bold, brave and honest.
From the first part of A Fan Unfolding:
…mysterious month-long tummy-ache gone
with the tumor. In its place is a slash,
flesh pressed together
by a braid of black stitches
from just above the unmapped unknown
between my legs to just above my belly button (p. 43).
And from the last part of the same poem, bikinis:
Summers of othersí
my time to hide (p. 45).
Some verses are so melodic that we can almost hear the music. Let us sing some of these verses from Frog Song on page 143:
In places wilder than home, creaks and groans
of frog song come to me: dusk to dawn
musicals in a monastery garden, fragments
through New Zealand rain, today
from the mountain marsh
down the path below the window
where I write, stepping stones back
into memory and forward into faith.
Note the beautiful descriptive alliteration: musicals in a monastery,
dusk to dawn, and mountain marsh. We can actually hear the creaks and groans of the frog song if we listen closely.
We cannot help but feel the deep longing for friendship and not just from family and friends in The Grace of Gesture:
I pull forward, belted behind
steel and glass, longing
to be seen and greeted, hungering
to open myself like a gift
to another, thirsting
for the thin water of my life
to be turned into wine (p. 28).
In the poem: Becoming No One (p. 30), the author incorporates silences between stanzas.
This poem is fraught with such deep-seated emotion that we need a break to absorb her thoughts and to think:
I fear he will see
Iíve somehow become
eat drink smile gulp numb,
all hunger, no self.
My best girlhood people-pleaser
Performs my place at the table…
All the above poems talk about Jenningsí longing to find an inner self. She
identifies herself with hunger only. But in the next three sections, she
begins to see a self beginning to emerge. Then in the last section, which she
titles Speaking Flesh and Stone, she finally sheds her shame and
sees a path to recovery through hard work. When reading more of the poem
Frog Song, we relax our tense bodies and minds and breathe a sigh of relief:
…Alone for days
my pen and I let frogs dictate
poems. Uninvited, loneliness
crashes the party, cloaking herself
in her usual costume, a shove
toward kitchen cupboards…
…I listen to the song of my own
longing. I take loneliness
for a stroll. I hold her…(p. 143).
Here she gives loneliness a voice and a personality. In another verse she c
ompares herself to a frog soaking up the damp, sweet earth. She tells
loneliness that she is no longer scared. I tuck her (loneliness) into
the chambers of my throbbing heart (p. 144).
But the poem that speaks to me the most is titled: Mirror,
one of the last ones in the book. To me it is the epitome of the poetís
will to release herself from the bottomless pit of hunger, to find a
self that she likes and to tell shame that she is no longer needed.
Her appetite for food is satiated and she no longer has to binge
eat to relieve her emptiness. Her husband loves her body and so does she:
…more often in a glimpse after showering, before dressing,
free of lines and colors of clothing to cut or distract from curves,
when the mirror reflects
the me my husband sees
like the aha! figure emerging from an optical illusion…(p. 121).
I head into my day, and I hope she remains
in the mirror at just that angle in just that light
presenting her luminous self not for my husbandís perusal
but for my extended embrace (p. 122).
I was moved by Hunger Speaks, a book to read from beginning to end.
It is the authorís story, told in poetry. The imaginative, provocative, and stark
language is an inspiration to other writers. It is befitting that this
book won several awards, including three from the Colorado Independent
Publishers Association, the EVVY for memoirs, a Merit Award for Poetry,
and the Past Presidentís Award, which goes to the one book with the
highest score from the judges in any category — in other words, “best in show.”
It also placed as a finalist in the poetry category of the National Indie Excellence Awards.
So we have a thrilled new author.
1. Montreal Gazette, May 20, 2010.
Visit Carolyn Jennings' website.
Purchase Hunger Speaks from Gurze Books.
National Eating Disorders Association
features Carolyn Jennings.
Download PDF version