Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Imaginary Logic by Rodney Jones

Imaginary Logic, the most recent collection of poetry by Rodney Jones, was a book that for me was filled with ups and downs- poems, or even parts of poems which I loved, followed by a stanza that bored me or a poem stifling in its obscure references. For example, "The Ante" comes across, at least for the first half of the poem, more as a list of poets and other things than as a poem itself. By the ending, it seemed that Jones had gotten away from the constricted format and practical lists and instead let the loose beauty of his writing flow, ending with the lines "That was the beauty of it. You could sing. / No one would hear. You could say anything."

This was my main problem with some of Jones' poetry, that the things he references occasionally overwhelm the simplicity of his own writing. In the next poem, "Confidential Advice" he begins with the same sort of list of people,
"Jesus was full of it,
and Muhammad and the Buddha and Marx
(both Groucho and Karl)
and Mao Zedong and his fourth wife, Jiang Qing,"
And although sure, what he is saying is true, I also felt like it was unnecessary and that the longer the list becomes the more irrelevant it is. What I craved was a snap judgment, a single metaphor.

In reality, "Confidential Advice" was less of a problem than other poems where not only does Jones list people, but they are often references so obscure that I had no idea who these people were. For example, in "Starstruck" he talks about celebrities but his examples include Leonard Nimoy and Joey Lauren Adams. True, these are actors of relative fame, but I had to google them. Honestly, maybe I am just ignorant when it comes to celebrities but I'm not sure how many people who read poetry will also know who Jean Skelton is- and even after googling I'm still not 100% sure who Jones meant. If the focus of the poem is about being starstruck and meeting famous people, the power is lost when the names aren't recognizable.

I realize that is a lot of criticism about the collection, but the reason I was so upset about these aspects is that outside of them Jones shows true talent. In "The End of Practice" Jones captures the sweat and the strength of this "male dream" where, "If I did not rise above the field, I would be eaten.", the poem vibrates with the intensity of the sport so powerfully that I almost didn't mind the references it contained, to more people who's names I don't recognize and even Google is unclear on (Charles Sandlin, Richard Foot, Jerry Reeder) leaving me wondering if I'm just really unaware or if they are as obscure as they seem.

Then again, maybe this is completely my problem and other less left-brained individuals wouldn't mind it so much since Jones himself is already a well-established poet having been named as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for a previous collection, Elegy for the Southern Drawl (1999) and as winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry award for Salvation Blues (2006), which was also shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. I would definitely consider picking up a second collection by him to see how it compares to Imaginary Logic stylistically.   

Some of the most interesting poems in Imaginary Logic, are the ones in which Jones deals with religion, but not just traditional dusty Christianity, but what it means in a modern and technologically advancing world such as in "The Competition of Prayers" which includes the lines "bandstand for heavy Christian music/ and widescreen Christian karaoke."

The poems I particularly enjoyed were the ones which seemed more personal to Jones, such as "Winning" where he discusses how his sister was always the one getting the prizes, and the only time he won anything was a H-4 club sack race where he may, or may not, have cheated. I also loved "Metaphors for Trance" about playfighting with his dog, which captures perfectly the image of a canine and boy intertwined, ending with the stanza:
"We had played this game often- no bruising ever, never blood,
though it would prove tricky in the endgame to regain control:
I would have to draw him like a large key through a small hole." 
Later in the collection, "Deathly" appears, a poem inspired by the Aimee Mann song of the same name. Since I've been a huge Aimee Mann fan for about a decade, this was a reference I certainly both understood and appreciated. The poem itself perfectly captured the bleak romance of Mann's song as well as the feeling of driving "a late-model car through a big city late a night: / the ordinary nostalgia, with its useless long / and then the clearer nostalgia for what never happened".

Another memorable portion of the book is a series of poems entitled "The Previous Tenants" which speaks of those who lived there before the narrator, all the people that used to be. It is about age and decay, a haunting story in which one stanza begins "Most of us who live here do not come from here / and seem to somewhere else when we talk" which sums up well the sensation of the poems, it is almost like Jones is telling a ghost story, a series of histories. At one point he writes:
"We know them from the colors they left more than their words.
We know them more from the marks they left on the wood
than the pulses that quickened when they entered rooms.
We know four flower beds. We do not know their love.
We know all that went unrepaired and fell apart.
We know them from others more than they told us themselves."
In the end I was left conflicted over my feelings for Imaginary Logic, a collection of poetry that can be at times brilliant and at times frustrating. Ultimately, although I didn't relate to or understand much of the name-dropping or enjoy the lengthy lists sometimes contained in Imaginary Logic, when Jones dealt with what appear to be personal incidents or memories in his poetry he caught my attention in a powerful and undeniable way.

Release Date: October 27th, 2011
Pages: 96
: Netgalley
Buy the Book

1 comment:

  1. Just read this book. I really liked "Deathly" and "The Competition of Prayers." They stood out to me for their complexity and mood.


Your comments make my day!