“[Rogoff’s] poetry takes a visible art of movement and translates the feelings it evokes and the history it records into delicate words. . . . But Rogoff also has an amazing knack for the humor in humanity, as a slew of death-defying poems demonstrates.”—The Advocate
“Quite simply, I love the gravitational, poetic pull of Rogoff’s work.”—Renée E. D’Aoust, Notre Dame Review
The poems in Jay Rogoff’s Venera explore varieties of love, both sacred and profane, by drawing from the natural world, personal intimacy, and the human imagination as evoked in biblical narratives and art. Rogoff reveals how devotion’s many guises collide to startle us: a husband consoles his wife after she is awakened by an imaginary child, a man daydreams of his kindergarten crush, Abraham’s fear of God perplexes his love for Isaac, and the Virgin Mary, stunned by the angel Gabriel’s inhuman beauty, contemplates the decades of purity that stretch ahead.
In Venera’s title sonnet sequence, inspired by visions of the feminine depicted in the works of Renaissance painter Jan van Eyck, such collisions evolve into collusions. As Rogoff weds elevated language to plainspokenness and sets the erotic alongside the miraculous, the beloved accumulates many identities—everyone’s mother and everyone’s daughter, the laboring handmaid and the Queen of heaven, the fertile field and the elusive bride.
Rogoff’s poems allow us to ponder the con-tradictory human concoctions of love, detailing how they drive us to venerate the sacred while also submitting to the power of the sensuous.
The angel is in love with her. He wants
to break his contract as the messenger.
He wants to speak for himself. But what terror
in choosing the dreck of human romance,
to feel wing-feathers scatter to the winds;
worse, to have to eat, to kneel at her altar,
he who’s never so much as tasted water,
his airy gorge rising at those communions:
the bread not even bread but always tasting
like human flesh, the wine rich, disgusting
as blood. Yet he’d eat at her board, he’d grow
bones for her; if he could encounter her by
chance somewhere, a garden say, even he
might offer her some food, some fruit or something.
Jay Rogoff has published four previous books of poems, including The Art of Gravity and The Long Fault. His poetry and criticism appear in many journals, and he is The Hopkins Review’s dance critic. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he teaches at Skidmore College.
Extras for Venera
Jay Rogoff talks about his work in this interview (WAMC Public Radio)
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