Thursday Shout Out
I have had the great pleasure of introducing Jennifer L. Knox in a few different writing courses. The first thing that happens is a dilation of pupils, as if an art history teacher suddenly flipped the next slide to reveal the students’ own family photographs. There amongst the van Gogh’s and the Gauguin’s is a picture of their sister wearing only her underwear and carrying a 40 full of gas near the aqueduct. The picture stands up to the others, but it’s wildly close to home. Colors rich and unflinching. This is to say, there is an immediate recognition of language and landscape. With her second book, Drunk By Noon (Bloof Books 2007) Knox continues to simultaneously pierce and please the reader.
Knox’s brusque no-nonsense voice can be rough to the touch at times, tough too, but it is always finely anchored in gorgeous language and sound-play that twists richly through the verse.
Will Sword Swallowing Save Us From Self-Pity?
Air today’s thicker than my mumbling—
Monday, August, 100% humidity:
A perfect day to die down at Coney,
Tyler Fyre, as waddling rubes there
to take in the ocean and a few clams
stare stunned, at your slick, silver patter.
I read when the neon tube shattered
in your throat, you thought, “I always
wondered what this would feel like,”
but after the wonder, you had to pull
the broken glass back up and out.
No solid foods for a week, you said.
I want very real things to fear—imagined
accidents and cancer aside—seen things—
hard and immediate as the waving steel
of a crimped Malaysian kris. Thus
gut me like a fish, I give in to the gag
at the back of every dropped blade for I can’t
hold on longer in this heavy air to so much
nothing that’s no big deal—really nothing
I can’t choke down.
With provocative language that’s thick as the air described in the first line, Knox paints the vibrant pulsating picture of how one wishes to rid themselves of pain. At first, the glimpse of the sword swallower, crisp and well rehearsed with his “slick, silver patter.” Then to the shattering, what it means to literally have broken glass inside the body. This violent metaphor for despair/grief/heartbreak doesn’t stop here, but continues with the brutal pulling “the broken glass back up and out.”
The turn of the poem happens with the speaker asking for, “real things to fear,” “hard and immediate as the waving Malaysian kris” (a deadly looking asymmetrical dagger). Here, we enter the world of the deplorable self-pity that the speaker at once acknowledges and detests. Wanting the “gag” of the “dropped blade” over the unsee-able pain caused by our own minds.
The poem’s intrigue is not only in the confluence of searing sounds and visceral rhythms, but also in that it is a comment on the very act of making art out of pain. The speaker is asking for a physical thing, to be like the swallower, to shatter for real, but what finally is given, what is pulled “back up and out” after the emotional breaking is, in fact, the poem.
Though many tout Knox’s humor as her most popular quality, like the best technicians of comedy it is the jugular she goes for, by way of the jocular. Throughout the book are lines full of the quick-witted prankster that is present in so much in her first book, A Gringo Like Me, but here there is also an anguished cry. In her poem, “13 Stages of Grief,” Knox writes, “22. Or vets. Let’s mend the crows. And the parrots. With holes chewed in their/sore bald armpits. There are antidepressants just for birds, you know?/23. Maybe one more?/24. Nah.” One is left with 13 stages that actually go on to 24, a punch line that whips and stings.
Themes such as the lost and stolen, both breaking and singing, as well as messages offered to us by the great unknown punctuate the book’s contagious fever of poems. From a landscape of Americana with its tumbleweeds, acid hits, red meat and f*cking, Knox’s voice comes at us courageous and stouthearted sticking her flag deep in the soil of this weird and wicked world.
Drunk By Noon. Yes. Sign me up.
Catch her on tour with other Bloof Books authors here: bloofbooks.com
Ada Limón is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006), This Big Fake World (2006), Sharks in the Rivers (2010), and Bright Dead Things (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award. She earned an MFA from New York University, and is the recipient of...