“This book is not meant to be read from cover to cover. It is a book for dreamers. Slight of word, rich of image, its purpose is to ease the soul.”
– Jackie Morris, “The Unwinding: And Other Dreamings”
Seeking a respite from the frantic pace of the digital world, we turned to “The Unwinding: And Other Dreamings” a brief gem of a poetry book written and illustrated by Jackie Morris. Taking her suggestion from the quote above, we meandered through the pages, absorbed in peaceful fragments of prose and Morris’s elaborate watercolors. Set in a slumbering winter landscape, “The Unwinding” explores a woman’s connection with mythical animals who possess “the wisdom of untamed things” and the natural phenomena around her. With sparse language and tranquil imagery, “The Unwinding” is a soothing tonic, best enjoyed by the hearth on a frigid evening as snowflakes fill the windowsill.
The world of “The Unwinding” is snowy and cool. Skies are blue, white and powdered with cold snow. Morris fills the pages edge-to-edge with watercolor scenes, motion drawn in with the red curl of a fox, the cobalt swim of a koi in the air. Stanzas are placed around the figures as if the words are suggestions, another simple element of the landscape.
The book is a dream of winter, each page painted as a window into its arctic world. We follow a lone woman through icy plains, tracking animals rendered in profile. The palette is often limited, color given only to living things. Poetry lives in the empty spaces.
With simple prose, Morris expresses a child’s joy in nature with the wisdom of an ancient soul. The tone is serene, at times even fanciful. The stanzas are compact, written in free verse, unconcerned with rhyme yet still somehow rhythmic. Morris’s style doesn’t rock the boat, but that isn’t her intention, nor should it be. This is not a book for spring, for growth or novelty — even were it not for the wintry landscapes of bare trees and brooding snowdrifts, “The Unwinding” demands introspection. With its fairytale-esque animal characters in a world devoid of other humans, “The Unwinding” harkens back to a lost sense of childhood wintry nostalgia.
The comfortable gravity of winter gives way, at points, to more stylized images. A bright caravan swirling on the page, a sense of bohemian variety pulled from fairy tale. We read with an air of welcome strangeness. As if picturing bedtime stories, the visuals are odd and fantastical, but wholly on theme.
As the surreal visuals raise questions, the prose answers them. The woman embraced by the lush tail of a fox is revealed to know the fox intimately, not as a pet but as a companion. One gets the sense that the illustrations came before the poetry — that the organic curves of each sentence follow the sweep of a midnight fish’s fin, or the arched back of a prancing deer. The lack of any human element is a boon to the project — it’s pleasant to read poetry without the influence of society. Any reader would find peace in its surreal simplicity.
“The Unwinding” is more art than novel, and we like it that way. It’s a pleasure of a book, the sort that transfixes the reader. Having felt the first snows of Michigan winter, we find that the book mirrors that deadness of the air, that pastime of snow-watching through frosted windows. It brings to life the magical thinking of the colder months — a seasonal portrait sure to calm and intrigue.