The Novice Insomniac

by Emily Warn Copper
Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, $12

Emily Warn’s second volume of poetry, The Novice Insomniac, integrates Jewish themes, personal memories and a formidable engagement with the natural world. Her poems’ rich textures stem from images of vegetation, roots and flowers, which reflect the multi-colored emotions of characters as they travel on their personal journeys.

In a section entitled “The House of Esther,” Warn draws upon the biblical Queen Esther and a host of contemporary counterparts, summoned to celebrate each woman’s heroic history. Many of the poems define the struggle of Jewish women to celebrate their religious identity while confronting a ubiquitous male presence within their tradition. The narrator of “Procession” boisterously proclaims her durability in the face of constricting male ideologies: “Give up on me God. Pick me and distill me and turn me into wine. Get drunk on me God, because I’ll last and last.”

In “Sounding the Good Name,” “Esther” becomes a term that encompasses heirs of the ancient queen— women who discover spiritual outlets, who “turned toward the god of the stars for a spell.” “Esther” echoes of courageous women, of Esther (Etty) Hillesum, sent unbroken to the death camps. The name also resounds of spiritual connection to the land; it is “[s]houted . . . under the desert stars with horns, noisemakers . . . .”

The inclusion of plant and animal life in delicate emotional spaces generates vitality in Warn’s work. In this luscious volume. Warn overlaps personal recollections with Jewish culture, measuring the power of nature to inscribe itself into our collective and personal experiences.