Review by Rachel Lancaster
by Jéanpaul Ferro
2011, 86 pp., $10.95
In Jéanpaul Ferro’s latest collection of poetry, aptly entitled Jazz, we find a milieu of desperate people living in fraught and distressful times. Jazz is a lush examination of our modern civilization from the vantage point of an anxious post-September 11th world. The etymology of Jazz is one of fate, the fate of humans from all different societies, all of whom live under the same current realm of so-called “Liquid” modernity: its effects different on each soul depending on where you happen to be living on this globe of ours. Modernity will have one type of effect on a European or American, and then it will have a completely different effect on someone else living in the Middle East or in India. Jéanpaul Ferro bravely takes us on an expedition through this difficult examination of the psyche, where the Internet has become one of the main contributors to globalization, where God is nowhere and everywhere within the same society, and people’s lives, no matter where they are, have became merely an act in a play that they create for themselves as a desperate way of ending their own physical and emotional pain.
Jéanpaul Ferro’s previous collection, Essendo Morti – Being Dead was nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry, in part because of its world view and for its examination into the exploitation of humans all around the globe. From the concentration camps of North Korea to the battlefields of Iraq to the splintering of the America society, Ferro put everything on the table and what came out was some of the most poignant work we’ve seen in a while. Jazz is no different in its scope as it takes on vigilantism, the imprint the Iraq war has left on its veterans, the news to a mother of a young soldier killed in action, and the fear, apprehension, and paranoia so evident in the minutes of every American life.
In the haunting “Hallelujah,” a parent is told of the news that their child has been killed overseas in the war. Instantly an entire lifetime flashes before their eyes. The seasons are now forever changed. Memories are altered. A life-path different from anything a parent can ever conceive is suddenly their heartbreaking reality.
Looking beyond the porch, the rain slowly
traveling down the claim shell road,
darkening skies, where whiteness used to be;
the houses along the road screaming of your death,
the blue one, the maroon one, the melancholy yellow,
one liked music; one liked what a picture could be;
your small ghost running across their lawns…
In the poem, “John Updike,” instead of taking a point of view from the left or a point of view from the right, Ferro simply diagnoses the feelings of both fear and loss on both sides of the coin. In one place a feeling of fear causes a reaction, while in another place someone loses someone else dear to them. In the end somehow it is clear that everyone loses.
I am running from the pain all the time now … you know the one,
that single empty chamber that has no name;
It runs in the dark door in extreme pallor,
a disgust quotient of 10 over 4 in our great American life—
that bomb coming through your doorway courtesy
of the USA;
a person disappearing, delicately diaphanous as they go
into the nothingness forever; shhhh! whispered; a kind of death
that we pretend God doesn’t hear;
that bloody spot on the ground where someone once stood,
a spot where their child will stand twenty years from now,
—the polychrome buildings glimmering in the thin reflection
of God, his personal photog spinning around, over and over,
to get the picture.
In “Letter from a Soldier” a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan has returned back to the U.S., but cannot escape the horrors and bloodshed witnessed. The war and the so-called real world blur until both of them are almost indistinguishable.
I look for you in the dark,
beyond the Massachusetts woods
where the wolves hide at the edge
of the field,
all night long as the rockets
rain down just a little bit harder;
I go through all the alleys as the
buildings come down and everything
turns to ash,
But I am just a little bit broken,
broke in all the right places—
a million little jewels that split apart
all across the ground.
Not all of Jazz is blood, guts, and war. There are many pieces that sparkle and shine with joyous happiness and sublime devotion. Some poems are quirky, others lustful and evocative. In “The Dream House” desire, adoration, and spiritual awakening all meld into one blissful prayer to a lover.
Her soul was the color of God,
a thunderhead of apple red, and in wavelengths,
vestigial hips and thighs/the drunkenness
that comes thereafter;
the palpable lure of Everest, the way you
conquer it when it is easily conquering you,
translucent as night, a shrouded thing to wrap
In other pieces, the entire poem is a metaphor. This is evident in “Life on Mars” where we spend most of the poem in a dream state on another planet only to find ourselves realizing a deeper meaning of death and dying. In “Arrete! C’est ici L’Empire de la Mort—,” Ferro takes us to the Paris underground, to the old catacombs which are now a cemetery where millions of bodies have been piled on top of each other over the centuries. The poem is seemingly about a couple running through the catacombs when in reality it is about the haunting ledge of being in a relationship with someone with suicidal tendencies.
Jéanpaul Ferro’s Jazz is full of this gut-wrenching diversity that moves us through a realm of heartbreaking worlds full of longing and contradiction. It is high art. It is modern life. It is the very world that we all see around us. As a whole, Jazz is a time capsule for the past ten years of American life. Rather than judge the actions, outcomes, and motives of mankind, Ferro weaves a tapestry full of flashes and stories and lets us decide what is right and what is wrong. It is one of the more elegant collections of poems I have read in a while. And like real jazz, it leaves you dizzy and drunk and panting for more.
Rachel Lancaster is a freelance writer and poet from Corvallis, Oregon. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.