How I Became Hettie Jones, her memoir about beat writers and her marriage to Amiri Baraka, Jones's poetic debut Drive

ALL TOLD

Hettie Jones, Author . Hanging Loose $22 (94p) ISBN 978-1-931236-20-1 ISBN 978-1-931236-19-5

Best known for How I Became Hettie Jones, her memoir about beat writers and her marriage to Amiri Baraka, Jones's poetic debut Drive (1998) combined prosaic diction with a knowing, urban wit that could turn serious on a dime. This new collection of several dozen short, unsentimental works primarily located in New York City, Jones's longtime home, extend her territory: "When Jason my neighbor suggested I water the street tree/ I claimed to be unready to extend my sphere of influence/ Jason died in his homemade rope and tire sandals/ fell off a cliff in Australia." Jones uses neighborhoods and streets as personal markers in many of the poems, particularly in a string of poems detailing family history in Brooklyn: "Blue-eyed men eating her kasha and kugel/ salt red hands on the table/ Sarah dies in Bay Ridge, 1926, before/ her baby becomes my mother/ who says I have her mother's/ hands." A New York School sensibility infuses some of these poems, as Jones is fond of using direct address and naming, but Jones's unflinching recognition of death as subject matter is singularly unaffected: "Death, you bastard/ give me back Dennis Charles/ Don't make me leave him on St. Mark's Place/ in his overcoat and his happiness/ exactly where I left Albert Ayler!/ Is that a stop on the way to/ music heaven?" Jones's anecdotal style and propensity for brevity at times works against her weightier material, but acute compassion and humor ultimately carry the work: "What if uniworld demanded uniword?/ How to choose when they're all so tasty/ in the mouth's wet machinery." (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 01/01/2003
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