W. Luther Jett

Chronicling Our Splintered Age: Patricia Spears Jones; Reviewed by Luther Jett

A Lucent Fire: New & Selected Poems by Patricia Spears Jones (White Pine Press, 2015)

Here is a collection of poetry spanning the career of Brooklyn poet Patricia Spears Jones. Make no mistake, the rhythms of city life —The city, NYC— pulse through these pages. From Jones’ early work in the late 1970’s to the present, she serves up a heady urban stew. The 2017 winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize dips her ladle into antiquity, letting the aroma infuse our modern air:

“Cylinder seal / lapis lazuli

Yes, all blue, all the time

beer drinkers, Mesopotamians

dancing to the music made on the bull-headed lyre …”

[“What the First Cities Were All About” from Painkiller, 2010]

But Jones is no fusty academician — Hers is a thoroughly modern voice as she writes of house parties and shopping along Fifth Avenue. Music infuses her work — she gives us odes to Kurt Cobain, Mary J. Blige, Fats Domino, and Aretha Franklin. Sylvia Plath haunts these pages, “carrying … prescriptions to dull the rain in her heart” [“Sylvia Plath: Three Poems”], as do other tragic figures, such as Matthew Shepherd, and luminaries like Jorge Luis Borges, Rita Hayworth, Julian Bond.

No, it’s not all partying. There’s ample room in Jones’ poetic universe for loss and grief, for quiet moments of reflection — room, too, for for the blues and reds of love and love-making.

“The weight of you

is traced on my sheets by musk, semen

oil of coconut (your hair) …

“… a song so sweet, it makes teeth ache.”

[“5:25 A.M.” from The Weather That Kills, 1995]

Active for four decades, the bulk of the work collected here was published in the present century. As such, hers is a chronicle of our splintered age. Some of Jones’ most compelling poems are paeans to friends lost to untimely circumstance — some to AIDS, others to violence, suicide, or the cares flesh is heir to. Jones give us “Honorable music to comfort the dead” [“All Saints Day” from Painkiller, 2010]. Through it all, Jones never stops singing, never stops seeking.

“I pray for friends in grief, their Mamas and Papis sick and

dying.

I pray for my own heart stunned too often by love’s

promise, then

Left to heal somehow …

“Someone somewhere burn sage for me

Drums liberate senses remember

Remember

“Spring is the season that demands ….”

[“Last Day of Passover, April 2006” from Painkiller, 2010]

Much of Jones’ work is wistful, expressing a depth of yearning worthy of a Portuguese saudade. In her poem “Shimmer” she asks “When stars explode on summer evenings / must we match their bright fury … speech pulsing like sex with a new lover … can’t that be enough?” Jones sings to use of Blue Saturdays, lost keys, towers falling, loves which come and go. And above it all, she sings of hope, of that relentless aspiration which encompasses both the best and worst of America, even now in this age of Pandemic and Paranoia.

“… who has time when we jump

from one ledge to the other, trying to keep

one jump ahead of personal or national disaster?

“… I can see the Ox’s half-moon horns …

“And offer one more prayer to the God of Friendship.”

[“Day After May Day” from Living in the Love Economy, 2014]

Make friends with this poet. her embrace contains multitudes, cities.

Jones’ website, where she maintains an extensive blog, also has links to her published work:

W. Luther Jett is a native of Montgomery County, Maryland and a retired special educator. His poetry has been published in numerous journals as well as several anthologies. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Not Quite: Poems Written in Search of My Father, (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and Our Situation, (Prolific Press, 2018). A third chapbook, Everyone Disappears, is slated for release, Fall 2020, by Finishing Line Press. To read more by this author: "Recessional," The Wartime Issue, Vol. 7:2, Spring 2006.