“I’ve seen how/brutality becomes the rhythm to a kind of/song”

-Carl Phillips

Saeed Jones may be one of the most necessary poets of our time. Our time, which, as of this moment, is ravaged by news of Ferguson, heartbreak in Gaza, Tina Fontaine, the murders of two transgender women in Detroit, a massive water shortage in California, earthquakes—to name a few things. As I type this, my news feed and inbox are full of letters and articles and tweets and comments and frustrations and fundraisers of all of the folks in my immediate community and their immediate communities and the vast global communities we occupy by sharing the same umbrella of identity, the intersection of race, ability, gender, class, occupation, illness. If it’s true (and I believe it is true) that our movements and traumas are reflected in the art that we consume, or that the art that we consume often tells a better story than any journalist, then Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise is an archive of resistance.

Says poet Brenda Shaughnessy of the book:

Jones takes a reader deep into lived experience, into a charged world divided among unstable yet entrenched lines: racial, gendered, political, sexual, familial. Here we absorb each quiet resistance, each whoop of joy, a knowledge of violence and of desire, an unbearable ache/loss/yearning. This is not just a “new voice” but a new song, a new way of singing, a new music made of deep grief’s wildfire, of burning intelligence and of all-feeling heart, scorched and seared.

The personal, in Jones’ poems, becomes the canvas for the public, the socio-political. In these poems, which weave together narratives of love and grief with those of race and class, place and time, the body is a song occupied, which becomes louder and louder as the melody intensifies. We the reader start to question the beginning and ending of the lover with the systemic violence the lover represents. We begin to displace the body of the speaker with the body of ourselves. In “Cruel Body”, Jones’ writes:

You answer his fist____and the blow
shatters you to sparks.

Unconscious___is a better place, but swim back
to yourself.

Behind a door you can’t open,___he drinks
to keep loving you,

then wades out into the blue hour.

Still on the floor, waiting___for your name
to claim your mouth.

_____Get up. Find your legs,
leave.

Using rhythm and invented rhyme as a vehicle, the poems in Prelude to Bruise sing a song of the self that manages to be both highly personal and wholly recognizable. The reinvented self. The ravaged self. The self that both succumbs and overcomes. With love and desire as the tightrope, the reader is led to the precipe of balancing what loving in a world on the margins signifies, in all its complexities, intersections, and violences. And how, at times, the poems teeter almost into the chaotic, before righting themselves, and steadying on.

 

 

Prelude to Bruise
By Saeed Jones
Coffee House Press
Paperback, 9781566893848, 124 pp.
September 2014



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  • Lou Kief

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