Jess Feldman picked an intriguing conceit to govern a series of very contemporary poems: ‘translate’ the Voynich manuscript, a 15th-century illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown tongue. Her shortbook Call It a Premonition, published in several beautiful editions by BOAAT, must leverage that excellent conceit against sometimes unambitious poems. As a whole, the collection is worthy.

To begin with, great free-wheeling happy anachronism presides; while I remain undecided whether the poetry, under a different persona, would be memorable at all, it’s impressive to read ‘Execution is the means / of wings outta here’ or ‘See, cuz: a mermaid’ in the mouth of a young Italian girl circa 1410. Feldman’s formal habit of scattering near-indistinguishable gutters in the poems makes for both regular visual interest and the feeling of a teenager’s speech-pause—this livens a reader’s sense of the book’s ‘accuracy.’ Most impressive, though, is the poet’s ability to mimic the deft, straightforward sadness of youth as it surfaces in seemingly simple turns of phrase. In “Lady Day”:

Never seen a day so dull even
my brother rocked himself in the dim corner
of the kitchen    Cook doesn’t like us but the man
we call Sir Man does

—in “Fingers Crossed”:

and yet only a tortoise crossed
the threshold of our stone yard
and the sky remained an empty
ballroom and the wheat fields grew
no one every knowing you
were in my prayer

—in “Hi”:

Don’t have time
to write much   All’s well but
brother’s sick   Sole heir
to the estate

—and in “Rabble-Rousers”

God is dark but can be cheerful
backlit with votives if He exists

Feldman’s tonal achievement in said mode has the shine of a truly measured hand, as ‘This is Friday, so act like it’ cedes to ‘I hauled in a billfish // over the gunnels and hugged it tight to my chest’—the young girl, that is, cedes to the ever-living anima. This slippery nexus is at the center of Call It a Premonition: how much rope is the young speaker to be allowed before the writer herself becomes hangable for, say, a poem made strictly of stupid lines from grandpa’s dinner rant? I’m not sure. But beneath the speaker’s openly journalistic style, a sense of measurement, of purposeful design, does sing out.