Rodney Jones, Author . Houghton Mifflin $22 (112p) ISBN 978-0-618-22417-3

Jones, who won the 1989 NBCC Award for Transparent Gestures, writes sweetly mordant poems that name (and absolve) instances of hypocrisy, futility, and joy. In "A Whisper Fight at the Peck Funeral Home," the immediate, ambivalent responses of the living to the presence of the dead are aired to mild commentary: "even the widow chuckling/ as she dabbed at one eye"; a mortician who, having restored the corpse of a teen-age drunk-driver, hears that "You've done a wonderful job,/ only Ronnie's hair was brown, not red." But while Jones, a professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and former Guggenheim fellow, is constantly aware of his role as curator of the Southern gothic (he quotes Faulkner on Mississippi's two cities: "Memphis and New Orleans"; a passage in "Ten Sighs from a Sabbatical" relates studying with an unnamed genteel modernist), he's happier to dispense sympathy than disgust. Worms, Kafka and fingerpicking make frequent appearances; occasionally there are unaffected signs of a transcendental strain, influence, as when in "Channel," he writes of a day's catch, "You hold them/ carefully. You listen, and they say your name in ancient Catfish." Certain habits here—verbed nouns (e.g. "apaloosaed" and "humaned"), colloquial placeholders ("it's like that here" and "I thought of it today"), and portentous last lines ("There are no honorary Negroes"; "The name of joy is music"; "The Kingdom / of the instant against the democracy of all time")—may grate. But given Jones's insistence on getting at the truth, these misdemeanors shouldn't be a hindrance to his pursuit of better things. (Sept.)

Forecast: Jones's most recent collection, Elegy for the Southern Drawl (1999), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This highly accessible book should please regular readers, but awards panels and national reviewers will probably wait for a selected for further recognition.

Reviewed on: 08/19/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-1761-3
Paperback - 104 pages - 978-0-618-44664-3
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