Poetry Review Monday!

Gary Jackson
Gray Wolf Press, 2010. 86 pages. $15
This is the first collection of poetry written by a contemporary poet that I would describe as a “page-turner.” This highly entertaining, moving collection of poems comes to us from newcomer Gary Jackson, who won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for his interweaving of comic books and real life. The speakers in these poems are superheroes, men, women, and children who describe the trials and tribulations of being alive. Jackson easily moves from speaker to speaker, slipping into and out of different skins like Spider Man slips in and out of his costume.

An underlying current to these poems is a discussion of what it means to be different. For some speakers, the difference is being a mutant. Jackson tells familiar narratives but with a twist. “Iron Man’s Intervention, Starring the Avengers” describes the frustration of being out of the superhero suit. The speaker describes how

A man at Starbucks shoved
me during morning rush
I stumbled over chairs,
fell. With my suit–
my marvelous iron prison–
I could pop his head with a flick
of one finger. But without it,
I’m just a man lost in the city.

In other poems, the difference is skin color. The boys in “In a Conversation about Superheroes” compare notes about their favorites:

They groan when I said Storm.
She’s boring because she’s only
black. Although she has
white hair, blue eyes,
taller than a lightpost
and can control the weather,
they know I’ve picked her
for her skin alone.

The speaker’s sly, understanding, yet bitter response to their reaction speaks volumes about our contemporary conceptions about race.

The underlying narrative to these poems is a story about Stuart, a boy the narrator knew growing up, who later joined a gang and commits suicide. Jackson brilliantly layers his poems so that the comic book heroes of one poem become a representation of reality in the next, before they slip back onto the page in the third. Consider “The Family Solid,” “The Dilemma of Lois Lane,” and “Bleed.” An “S” branded into a young man’s arm becomes the “S” of Superman, who pretends he can bleed for Lois, which moves to an image written in blood on the back of a yearbook photo negative. Feelings of strangeness, indeed.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lust-infused poem “Listening to Plath in Poetics.” Maybe I was drawn to this poem because I have a thing for Plath, and maybe that’s why Jackson chooses this setting. Desire drips across the page as a man contemplates the fleshy gap between a girl’s shirt and her pants: “And I would feed you a lie, / one of the little ones–the kind that turns / strangers to lovers, that turns words to poems.”

I highly recommend this collection for poetry and non-poetry readers alike.

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3 thoughts on “Poetry Review Monday!

  1. Laura M. Campbell says:

    Your lyrical review of Missing You, Metropolis is beautiful. And once again, upon your recommendation, I will be heading out to buy this book of poetry. I really enjoy reading pieces of work that delve into the human condition and relationships. The juxtaposition of super hero and mortal man is a fascinating theme. Oh, and I, too, have a thing for Plath. At the Pennwriters Conference, I took a workshop titled "Your Life is Poetry" with Seton Hill adjunct faculty Timons Esaias. He brought me to tears while reading from Jan Beatty's book of poetry, Boneshaker. I can't wait to get to the bookstore to pick them both up.

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