Jennifer Key

The Old Dominion

by Jennifer Key

From the opening poem of The Old Dominion, “Still Life With Jackie O,” through poems about Thomas Jefferson’s daughters and the sex workers of Storyville in the background of a Romare Bearden collage, Jennifer Key uses the hidden corners of our history and art to take us on a wise and wonderful guided tour of what it means to be a woman in America. Even when the events come from Key’s own history, the poems rise, effortlessly, to the universal. Discerning and dead-on, Key crafts perfect lines and stanzas steeped in sights, sounds, and moments of the places and times she evokes. The Old Dominion is a place you need to visit, a journey you will be glad you took, a book you must read.
Jesse Lee Kercheval,
author of Cinema Muto, Dog Angel, and World as Dictionary
Jennifer Key's book The Old Dominion

What People Are Saying

Few first books exhibit the aesthetic attentiveness, deep feeling, and mature moral judgment that distinguish Jennifer Key’s début. The Old Dominion announces the appearance of a poet of singular ambition and ability. These are stunning poems that promise a stunning career.”
Kelly Cherry
Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia (2010-12);
Eudora Welty Professor Emerita of English;
Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita
University of Wisconsin

Jennifer Key’s The Old Dominion is a moving collection that explores the geography of Virginia as well as that of the human heart, particularly women in all walks and stages from seductive high-school girls to Little Red Riding Hood to Jefferson’s daughters spiny as fiddlehead ferns, their foreheads pressed to the plate-glass walls. Throughout these layers – present day and history and myth – is the presence of desire and passion in the moment as well as restraint and loss: My whole family looks up into the terrifying sky at a comet we will never again see. Key bears witness to these landmarks and the passing milestones with great wisdom and vision, as she beautifully unearths the constellations, maps to lead us home.”
Jill McCorkle
Author of Life After Life

In her introduction to Sally Mann’s At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women, the novelist and short story writer Ann Beattie notes that the girls depicted in Mann’s photographs “look hard at the camera because they are used to looking hard at people and things, and because they are already quite accustomed to intruders. Some of the girls are privileged and some are survivors, but in all cases: the photographer has had to make a split-second decision to capture the moment when the subject has done something truly revelatory.” Jennifer Key, who, like Mann, hails from southwest Virginia, offers in her debut collection a “dominion” of girls and women who are also ”accustomed to intruders”—a host of characters (Jackie O., Circe, Little Red Riding Hood, Thomas Jefferson’s daughters, a new bride) from popular culture, history, literature, myth, and personal experience—girls and women whose stories of subjugation, discovery, abjection, power, and qualified hope Key renders with an extraordinarily mature humor, irony, and tenderness. Woven throughout is a sub-textual narrative from a speaker who seems close to the author, and as we experience her lost loves, found love, the passing of a devoted dog, the death of a beloved father, we also come closer to “the desolation of forgotten places, / [that bring us] into being.” For Key, is that place the South? “Somewhere is better than anywhere,” Flannery O’Connor once said in a lecture given at Georgetown University. But as Beattie writes, “If the photographer is right, then the limitations of the orchestrated moment will have been overcome. That, it seems, is the exhilarating moment for all artists.” That Key overcomes her orchestrated moments of time and place, and moves with gracious force into the complex domain of woman-hood, of selfhood, compels us to heed her fiercely articulated “Old Dominion” with exhilarated attention.”
Lisa Russ Spaar
Director, Area Program in Poetry Writing
Professor of English and Creative Writing
University of Virginia