Review: Window Left Open by Jennifer Grotz

Carolann Madden

There is an innate holiness to Jennifer Grotz’s newest collection, Window Left Open (Graywolf Press, 2016). Indeed, the collection itself is marked by the author’s own travels to a French monastery, but more so than that, Grotz’s meditative tone and keen eye elevate everything around her. Her attention to the micro invites her reader to meditate not just on the forest, the mountain, and how “the sun bakes the monastery stones,” but also on the scorpion, the moth, cigarette butts, and city streets. Grotz examines these things, and all that enters the world she creates in Window Left Open, with the utmost care.

Much of what is held within this worldis also in constant rotation, as things are continually coming in and going back out. We enter this rotation as we enter the book, through “The Forest.” In “The Forest,” we are told: “Those were the cows in the field by the forest, and those / were the days when going outside felt like going inside.” This somewhat Muir-esque observation persists in “The Forest,” and as Grotz walks us in deeper, her speaker reminds us,

                        And the sound of the pine trees creaking, and that was                           a kind of door. And so you could enter the forest,                                      and although each moment you trespassed further                                  became more tense, it only lasted until you could                                                                                                      [no longer see the road.

When eventually we emerge from this forest, we go out into another world where we contemplate smoking cigarettes on the steps of the library, where we wake up hungover in Paris, or visit a watchmaker in Kraków, and where we test the limits of language in an “unnamed foreign city.” As the first half of the book comes to a close with “The Broom,” the speaker recalls the Pisgah Forest, but cannot quite reenter it. A loneliness that has been palpable from the first is named: “Out of synch with time: / that’s a man-made loneliness. It feels like / waiting to be let back in, but it’s waiting for/ something in me to change.…” Again, Grotz offers her reader a moment to contemplate what wants to be let in, and what is already inside.

The second half of Window Left Open begins with these lines in “The Mountain”: “No matter how long I looked, I couldn’t see it all, / much less understand it. Yes, I believed the mountain could be understood, / that it was at least my task to try.” This half of the collection in particular is also dotted with questions, from “What amount of fear is the right amount of fear?,” to “how far should the poem wander?,” to “What do daises see with their feathery eye?” Ultimately, there is no resolution or move toward understanding here, in fact, understanding is not necessarily the goal, but that the act of trying to understand is.

When we arrive at the titular and penultimate poem, “Window Left Open,” we are told, “All you have to do is open the window /to let the night in: then moths / effervesce in a stream.” An open window does not discriminate, anything can come in, but this also means that anything can go out. We come to sense that, for Grotz, a window left open represents the potential both for visitation and escape. In the final poem, “Poppies,” she writes, “Love is letting the world be half-tamed,” thus also reminding us that although we cannot control what enters the open window, we should not contain what is behind it by closing it.