REVIEW: Aarik Danielsen on The Thicket by Kasey Jueds

*A note from the editor: I first encountered Kasey and her fabulous poems in my online classrooms. I share Aarik’s admiration for her gorgeous voice, and for the tenderness with which she holds the world, which shines through her words. It’s such a pleasure to feature her book here. – Sarah Ann Winn

The Thicket by Kasey Jueds

University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021

96 pages, $18

Review by Aarik Danielsen 

A Field Guide To Your True Colors 

Stand six, maybe eight, feet from a color field painting. Then leave yourself time. If you fix your feet and stay long enough, the color seems to magnetize itself—pulling you to its center, enveloping you. You finally break the gaze, your way of seeing rearranged, ready to perceive the world and all its contents anew.

With The Thicket, poet Kasey Jueds calls readers to the edges of arcadian fields, asking them to linger until they see flowers and fruit, trees and beasts—and, especially, nature’s purest colors—as if for the first time. Her words make a series of implicit promises: get lost in the wild and you will come back to yourself. Belong to the blooming world again and you discover what’s needed to re-enter your life of human hearts and hurts, ready to mend tears in the fabric of our relationships. 

Jueds’ work tenderly observes two levels of separation: humans outside nature looking in and people divided from one another. In the early poem “Of Pink,” she offers understanding to a grown child longing to live inside pink with all its attendant pleasures, yet used to hiding within “dull / navy blue, drab green.” Here, Jueds recognizes the crackling desire to be swallowed by a purer, wilder force—and thus learn to be yourself. 

She writes: “Who kissed / you in woods where the deer / keep their secrets. / Who holds. / Pink of wound between / the sutures. Pink / of live. See? You are / where you wanted to be. Alive / inside. Here, / your book of flowers.”

Only thin lines and intervening spaces separate us from unity with the remainder of creation—though the gaps seem cavernous in a world that gives up when obvious fixes fail. In this light, “The Far Field” reads like a thesis poem; Jueds’ speaker offers to draw maps, exterior and interior, back to harmony. Finally, she sounds a call to “Come close. Into / the delicate complications of green / where the field gives up / its distance, a final place but not / an end …”

The act of drawing near matters. And Jueds’ poems seem to believe the gesture will be reciprocated. Even giving ourselves to something elemental as color stimulates an eventual reward. Jueds writes color as well as any poet, sometimes naming it simply and elegantly (a “cobalt rustle of leaves,” “my soft heels pale as milkweed silk” or “blue-quiet trees”), sometimes plumbing its properties and investigating its soul. 

Her speakers ponder “a blue I can’t imagine: past pilot light, past winter / afternoon” (“Neither Have I Wings”) and screw their eyes shut to read the “redblack glow of the inner lids where the sapling’s outline gleamed” (“Sapling”). Jueds defines color by what it lacks (“not of pollen / but closer to the streetlamp / that comes on just before / night arrives entirely” in “A Brief History of Silk”) and by its potential (“… the angel / receded into air so thick it could almost / claim a color” in “The Tool Shed”).

In these poems, color frames how we lie beneath our canopies and live within our cities; lends us language, even repeating its own name in our ears, as yellow does in “Not All the Animals Sleep”; represents the consolation of another human soul and the sweater it hides behind; and calls us toward sources of light. 

Ultimately, color extends hope. Perhaps it’s hope for perseverance and relief—that gray might look “blue in certain lights” (“Small Music”), or the less-dark will stave off the encroaching black (“Sapling”). Whatever word pictures such faith assumes, it’s the hope that new ways of seeing will come. Learn to see these colors, to live within them, and the work of reorienting to the world feels half done, Jueds’ poems suggest.

Other forms of repair abound—one lover calls another back to their senses with botanical-stained, gin-scented fingers in “At Cape Henlopen.” A kiss amid poison ivy yields “a splatter of hot stars on one wrist” and the thrill of coming alive in “That Far North.” Hands clasp around a teacup in “Not All the Winds Have Names,” stirring innate memories of touch and rhythm, push and pull. 

Whatever the moment’s remedy, spiritual progressions reveal themselves: one form of connection, then another. Close a certain distance, and another span shrinks. Pining in the presence of a fallow field provokes the question “Who / am I, when I am not with you” in “Looking Back (The Far Field).” Wandering past a “yellow-lamped window” and spying the well-stocked bookshelves just beyond causes a speaker “to own the way you make me want / to read every single one” (“Love Poem With No Mountains In Sight”). 

Jueds’ subject in “Litany (Easter)” resembles us all; our intuition plays “the old game of hide and hope / to be found.” These poems offer a gentle rebuke, instructing us to step into the clearing and toward something as a form of prayer. The answer comes as you discover how “to render yourself / invisible so that / what is animal / may forget / for a while / and draw near” (“The Blind”). 

Even losing yourself momentarily in one of Jueds’ lines—and how could you not?—becomes a means of reconnecting to something inborn and reaching the wilds of real, messy, glorious living. In this way, The Thicket is a field guide worth picking up again and again.  


Aarik Danielsen is the arts editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Missouri and teaches at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a regular column, The (Dis)content, for Fathom Magazine, and has been published at Image Journal, Plough, Entropy, EcoTheo Review, and more.