Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Was the Jukebox - Sandra Beasley

I Was the Jukebox: PoemsI'm not a huge poetry person, so when "A book of poetry" was included on a reading challenge list, I was not thrilled.  Because I am very ambivalent, at best, towards poetry, I decided to do something I don't usually do for reading challenges and re-read a book I'd consumed in the past.  I originally read I Was the Jukebox for a literature course at my university, and I hung onto it (unlike most of my textbooks) because there was one poem in it that really blew me a way.  Also, at under 100 pages, it was a quick read for an evening--I don't have the patience to break up and savor poems though that is, apparently, how you are supposed to mindfully consume them.

This book is roughly divided into three parts, though I quite honestly am not sure what the divisions are supposed to signify.  But there are a few running "themes" throughout the book, scattered across the parts.  There a number of sestinas, which I distinctly remember Beasley describing as poetry acrobatics (she came to speak in my class) because they use very precise alterations of word order in the ends of lines to create an ongoing flow.  There are a series of "_____ Speaks" poems, in which the peom is written from the perspective of the item or being in the title, such as Osiris, orchids, sand, the world war, and the minotaur.  Another series is "Love Poem for _____" which includes things like oxidation and Wednesday.  And then there's the "Another Failed Poem About _____" series, which features things like music, starlings, or the Greeks.

While I feel that there was probably something lurking in most of the poems that I didn't "get," I might just be looking into it too much and deciding that I'm missing something when there's really nothing there to miss.  Despite that, though, there were a few poems that really stand out in this collection, even to someone who's generally anti-poetry like myself.  The main one of these is called "Cast of Thousands."  It's a poem about a war, and how it affects people, and how the pain and suffering of war has been commercialized for entertainment and used to sell things--gyros are specifically mentioned.  There's an incredible set of lines here: "They burned my village a house at a time / unable to sort a body holding from a body held / and in minute ninety-six you can see me raise / my arms as if to keep the sky from falling."  But the whole poem is written as if it's about a movie being made, which creates this great surreal duality that I really enjoyed and found striking.

Another good one was "Antiquity," which is about how the people of the future will look back at our time and study us.  There are also a few poems that have good comedic elements, such as one about a platypus and "Another Failed Poem About the Greeks," which starts out seeming like it's going to be some sort of epic, and then actually transforms into the story of a very strange date with Heracles.  And finally, the last poem in the book is called "Proposal" and ends with this line, which just struck me: "Promise you're worth my weight in burning."

It's an eclectic collection, with most of the poems being short--less than a page, for the most part.   I think they vary in how powerful they are, greatly, but I think that it's a solid collection if for nothing more than "Cast of Thousands," because it's just such an important message and it's beautifully, achingly, powerfully done.

3 stars out of 5--it's a good collection, I guess, with some particularly poignant parts, but it's just for me overall.

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