Things That Happen Once: New Poems

Rodney Jones, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $19.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-395-77143-3
The beauty of Jones's outstanding fifth collection (after Apocalyptic Narrative and Other Poems, 1993) lies in the way he employs control in order to evoke, not tame, the chaos of experience. Organized in four sections (Last Myths of the Pioneers, The Troubles That Women Start Are Men, Close Relations and Elemental Powers), the book begins in the vast province of American history, moves through anecdotes and tableaux of present-day life and ends with poems steeped in philosophy, sex and natural science. Although there is much beauty in Jones's world, much is also distasteful, even disgusting, and the poet never relaxes his candor. Beneath the evocations of television, Coca-Cola and space travel lie the phantoms of who we really are: weakly-lit rationalists eminently mortal despite our national myths. The middle two sections are grimmer, littered with such gothic oddities as a young man stepping gingerly over bits of a murdered man's spleen and liver while his father chats with the killer. In the last section, we find Jones digging for redemption--finding sex, eating and writing, whipsawing between the metaphysical and the physical, moving from narrative to thought, often letting light invade and even redefine the darkness he observes. ""Sex"" concludes: ""Why should I praise the exemplary life,/ Possible only in age or failing health?/ All that I love was founded on the same premise/ As heaven: that pleasure lasts longer than death."" Jones is so good, he almost makes you agree. (June) Selected by Heather McHugh as 1995 winner in the National Poetry Series, Volkman's debut collection retells myths and fairy tales in a modern, abstract voice to reveal essential, nearly private messages. In ""Persephone at Home,"" for example, the abducted goddess is ironic and cold in accepting her fate: ""I'll give no prince to this kingdom./ That thing is dead."" The collection's pared-down yet inventive voice often surprises with exact rightness, as in ""Reflections"": ""What good is a sky, I might have asked, if it will not give us new/ blue distance, if it will/ only throw our loss back at us, shabby lens."" Like the girl in ""Science and Industry"" who chooses to play with Legos rather than ""sweet-limbed cherry-cheeked/ dolls,"" Volkman chooses an angular, rigorously constructed style that informs her work with an exciting confidence, even though at times substance or a more radical exploration of meaning is sacrificed to style. Despite this occasional hollow effect, Volkman forcefully fuses ancient story and contemporary scene to frame an ironic and deflected commentary on modern emotional life. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/03/1996
Release date: 06/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 96 pages - 978-0-395-85601-7
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