Review by Rachel Lancaster
ESSENDO MORTI – BEING DEAD
by Jéanpaul Ferro
500 E. Magnolia Avenue
Eustis, Florida 32726
2009, 123 pp., $14.95
There is something magical, something at a deep unspoken level, within the passages of Jéanpaul Ferro’s new collection of poetry, Essendo Morti – Being Dead. Americans have been in a state of “being dead” since the September 11th terrorist attacks. Jéanpaul Ferro explores this theme of being dead as though it is a shared cultural feeling, similar to Nietzsche exclaiming over one hundred years ago “God is dead!” This is definitely a new truth that he is putting forth across the downtowns and side streets of America. No, according to Ferro, the American Dream has already died, and now the masses are in a state of becoming a living dead. It is red state verses blue state. Liberal verses conservative. God verses Darwin. A dream verses reality.
In the title poem, “Essendo Morti – Being Dead,” all of this is already self-evident:
Winter arrives, the birds all gone,
the skies stained in arctic blues,
we tire out easily through the hallucination,
our minds wet by the explosions,
we watch the thin rivers snake through the backyards
(looking for signs of life),
in dreams the bodies float away like homemade boats
down to the frozen waterfall,
night unearths every mass grave—
the intrinsic momentum-phenomena of light,
we fall to our knees to petition God,
beg him like we beg him to be saved,
each dream lasts up past springtime,
beneath the DMZ, all the orbiting planets,
until a simpler life—the migrating birds,
smoke rustling about our chimney tops.
Ferro moves back and forth out of a sort of magic surrealism. A country can be a woman, God or alienation can be a computation, and symbols can become words. In the poem, “W (Providence)” he says about the rules of life and love and writing and politics and his generation … everything: “here are the new rules: there are no rules.” Oh, you got guts brother!
Essendo Morti – Being Dead is a lot like Bob Dylan or maybe like PCP—it facilitates self-exploration into those dreamlike states of mind that it leaves you in. In “Dreams of Men” you are suddenly in a North Korean concentration camp. Ferro takes us there as though we are that prisoner; as though he can whisk us away through a dark portal and drop us right there behind those walls. And after you have been beaten and humiliated for 3 ½ years your wants are so simple that they are breathtakingly haunting:
you have a 5-foot-by-5-foot underground cell,
you are hit, you are raped, and you are tortured,
you creep, you crawl, and you cower,
you are crushed, you are experimented on,
you are rushed off your feet by freezing water,
you are poisoned, starved, gassed, you are cut up,
you are told your dead children’s names over and over;
I smashed my fingertips so they would kill me,
but they laughed at me for over 3 ½ years instead,
I huddled in the corner all night and tried to dream—
dream of my fingertips touching the wet sands of the ocean,
dream of the bright garden stars rising out in the backyard,
dream of your hips with cinnamon and parsley,
dream of your body rising sunward like a blue sunflower,
dream of flying south over the distant mountain tops,
so we can die together in a beautiful peace.
Jéanpaul Ferro speaks not only for his American brethren, but also for his human breathren across this giant blue planet of ours. There is a rich world view here even when he is writing about America—a world view that encompasses different perspectives and different styles, and might be suited to include everyone, not just the population of one place. A brilliant new talent, he has taken decorum and thrown in out, has taken the sanctuary of poetry-academia and thrown it out, and has found a way to make all of this seem old and yet new again. Bravo for Essendo Morti! I could hardly get enough. And now I am waiting for whatever might be next.
Rachel Lancaster is a freelance writer and poet from Corvallis, Oregon. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.