|A Lucent Fire by Patricia Spears Jones|
Patricia Spears Jones. Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-935210-69-6.
This collection of new and selected poems from Patricia Spears Jones brings the reader her customary wit and clarity couched in sumptuous imagery and language. Jones has published three books of poetry, Painkiller (Tía Chucha Press 2010), Femme du Monde (Tía Chucha Press 2006), and The Weather That Kills (Coffee House Press 1995), and four chapbooks that are simultaneously accessible and complex. A Lucent Fire spans a career and life to mid-point, offering a body of work with a unique and coherent vision grounded in the particularity of banal daily American reality, human frailty, and the historical and cultural conflicts that have created the present moment. The poems in this collection are full of ghosts and dreams, but most of all, they teem with the noisy life of the streets of New York City.
The lushly imagistic, yet often narrative, poetry of Jones is deeply located in place, the South of her childhood roots and the New York of her adult life. Still, hers is a cosmopolitan and international mind, equally at home discussing the paintings of Gabriele Münter, the German expressionist, hanging in the Lenbachhaus museum in Munich in “Femme du Monde,” the possible literary superstardom of Sylvia Plath, had her suicide been unsuccessful, in “Sylvia Plath: Three Poems,” the powerful talent and meteoric rise and fall of Jimi Hendricks in “In Like Paradise/ Out Like the Blues,” and Mesopotamian culture and the poetry of Catullus in “What the First Cities Were All About.”
As a poet, Jones is a singer in full voice, belting out the blues and gospel, but also crooning Son Cubano and opera. Her poems are full of harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, songs, and a meticulous aesthetic. Her supple, flexible English is often lyrical and melodic, though when appropriate, she can use harsher language and stronger rhythms within the net of language in which she captures the reader, much as a composer uses dissonance as a tool of emphasis and emotion.
Jones often also becomes a prophet crying warnings and reprimands in the wilderness and is constantly an astute social critic in poem after poem, focusing her fierce attention on the heartlessly materialistic, racist, sexist, and downright foolish aspects of modern American culture.
In “My Matthew Shepard Poem,” she looks at all the homophobic, racist, sexist ways in which
crawls through the culture like the cracks
in the San Andreas fault.
The playing field is not level. In fact, there is no playing field.
There are men enraged by change. …
And if this seems like male bashing, so be it.
If the dress shoe fits, may it pinch like hell.
Above all, Jones tells stories with wide and deep, but clear-eyed, love and compassion for the dizzying array of all-too-human characters she creates to entrance the reader. In the two poems titled, “April 1994: Two Deaths, Two Wakes, Two Open Caskets: Ron Vawter” and “April 1994: Two Deaths, Two Wakes, Two Open Caskets: Lynda Hull,” she renders two disparate personalities with love and regret—and considers the twin nemeses of the time, AIDS and addiction. Both poems are tragicomedies and resist sampling because of their integrated complexity. This is not an uncommon issue with Jones’s work: it challenges a critical culture of short quotes and one-dimensional analysis.
For example, in her short poem about the Paul Newman movie, “Hud,” she has fun, using wit and wordplay, with the whole concept of the movie and what has become its iconic status as a film about a man irresistible to women who is also destructive to them while at the same time critiquing the sexism, racism, and classism of the South and the rise of its influence on the rest of the country.
If a starched white shirt clings to his broad wet chest
and deer and antelope play.
It must be Texas.
Where else can a man be a jerk
and still make a woman’s heart ache?
The South on the verge of existentialism.
With evil enough to require regret and redemption.
God in a thousand carry-ons
In film reels to come.
For now the jerk stands bare-chested
Shading those teasing eyes.
In “Failed Ghazal,” Jones mourns the death of her good friend, playwright Peter Dee (she seems to be/have been friends with much of New York’s writers, musicians, and artists) through memories of his highly decorated apartment with morning glories encircling his window as part of a larger mourning for a violence-broken society. In the end, it is her dead friend’s legendary love for life and for his friends that brings her to reconciliation. “We will find our paths to mercy,/ to those morning glories—semaphores of grace.”
This book contains so much—art, music, television, film, books, painters and paintings, travel, history, politics, feminism, fashion, sex, heartbreak, writers, musicians, societal injustice and small daily aggressions, parties and high times, falling in and out of love, pain, disappointment, poverty, struggle, and death—too many deaths of talented people too early. Above all else, this book celebrates love and life in all their varicolored disguises and extremes, often as the ordinary, the quotidian. Jones offers us the use of her gifted eyes to see the miracles, the sacred fire, within the everyday.
This book holds a life, and what a brave, wise life it is.
Upcoming events and readings for Patricia Spears Jones. Catch the fire:
, Book Launch at BookCourt
, NYU Book Center
, University of Pacific
, The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University
Organized by the Poetry Society of America
w/ Lyrae Van Clief-Stefano
163 Court Street
Organized by Scott R. Hightower
w/ Barbara Fischer, Terese Svoboda & Jonathan Wells
Organized by Zhou Xiaojing, Ph.D.
Organized by Steve Dickinson
w/ Clarence Major
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA