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Monday, January 18, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Jack Henry- with the Patience of Monuments

Jack Henry-with the Patience of Monuments
NeoPoiesis Press, Houston, Texas, 2009
140 pages

This is Californian writer Jack Henry’s first full-length collection of poetry. The poems are largely auto-biographical and cover the usual range of underground topics: prison, drugs, homelessness, bonking, failure, hopelessness and isolation. The writing is highly observational and often formed by recollections kept submerged for decades. Henry’s use of lowercase free verse, outsider subject matter and bleak tone is reminiscent of Bukowski but Henry’s writing is more varied, and perhaps, sometimes less predictable than the master. The writing is certainly more vulnerable, more full of doubt. In ‘If’ the speaker admits:

nothing seems to stick
falling from the page
ready for the dustpan
random thoughts
scattered with the offal
of a disinterested life

In the remarkable poem ‘that screaming you hear is mine’ Henry rails against his deluded attempts to remake his life by returning to university and through his multifaceted poetic endeavors:

it became the proverbial carrot
a perfect cunt
a perfect smile
free dope for all
a selfish dream
where I could become something more
than this broke down 45 year old sack of rotting flesh
a third rate poet in a second rate town

The poems which stand out in this volume are Henry’s political poems. In his rant ‘rules to the game’ Henry immediately states his credentials as an outsider:

I don’t live a Christ centered life,
or, wash my feet before I enter a mosque,
or, stay away from pork or caffeine or heroin

What follows is a candid personal rebellion against society’s core values and expectations, how the speaker of the poem doesn’t ‘live life like the brochure offered’:

I don’t work for a chemical company that’s
only interested in profits and not the environment,
or an oil company that insists current profits are fair,
or a government that believes torture and war
are resolutions to disagreement

‘and we’ve still a ways to go’ is a free-wheeling poem which targets the inequalities in American society, the flagging economy, the forced evictions:

another bank goes under
another mall is shuttered
another family gets evicted
another mother loses healthcare
i keep waiting for voices to rise
voices other than blue and red

Henry in frustration asks why people are not speaking out, breaking out of their apathy and changing things. This poem represents Henry’s defiant scream, to in some small way, voice his concerns.

This is an excellent collection from one of America’s most important contemporary underground writers. Buy it here:

If you want to read more of Jack Henry’s poetry check out his website Life and Times of a d/e/a/d/b/e/a/t/p/o/e/t/

Jack appears on Jane Crown’s blogtalk radio show He is an engaging speaker and reads out some of his work, including six from this volume.