The Cineaste

A. Van Jordan, Author
A Van Jordan. Norton, $26.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-393-23915-7
Reviewed on: 02/25/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
“Movies provide my last safe playground,” writes Van Jordan in his fourth collection. Drawn from his experience as a moviegoer, these poems prove anything but safe—each film is its own playground of dangers, of “strangers who mistake me for someone/ they owe.” The collection spans surrealist works such as Un Chien Andalou (of which Van Jordan writes, in his notes, “I won’t pretend to understand this film...but I do understand how it makes me feel when I see it,”) to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. The connection is this poet’s interest in the “voyeur,” a theme enacted both through his role as a spectator and through his characters’ consciousnesses: “I love staring, too,/ at how the most public spaces turn/ intimate after dark”; “I look/ and want to recall the first look.” While Van Jordan plays with voice and register, the poems lean towards formal syntax and presentation; tercets and couplets belie the experimental content of the films the poems riff on. The collection’s middle section, a sonnet sequence based on Homesteader (the 1919 film by Oscar Micheaux), does a particularly fine job of turning the moviegoer’s public experience into private reverie without forgoing narrative and subtext, illustrating Van Jordan’s keen skill with “The tenderness of truth reworked, retold—.” (Apr.)