A collection about loss and life in the 21st Century.
Into The City
I asked her to take me to the city
where the suicides start at sundown,
each soul a fresh map in their crackup,
all the blue stars burning holes in the
twilight the way Fitzgerald would have liked it—
Detroit as blue as a glacier; I’ll take what you got
flashing up in neon, over and over—
this girl likes to hold my hand,
her dreams are only slightly broken,
she knows all the stars’ homes without
ever having to look at a map;
she looks in my blue eyes and says:
you could stop it if you wanted to;
I know it—I know;
in her bed she spreads her legs wide open,
she smells good like August, my fingers
taste like blueberries:
that wonderful scent within her deepest pain—
is that you and I in yesterday? are we drowning too?
try to swim to that island out there!
we wake up and it is night,
outside the seven fires are burning,
over there is where the grand canyon awaits us,
only it is metal and concrete and it is really 3rd Street,
looking around my eyes are tired from all the wars,
that deepening sound of all the people I’ve let go of,
each one falling through the air like it is Sept. 11th all
and I’m falling now, too—falling like wet patina
in between the buildings,
my blood and soul red and black as it is tattooing the air
Pedestal Magazine Book Review of Jazz by Jeanpaul Ferro
Reviewer: JoSelle Vanderhooft
Jazz is one of those rare poetry collections that manages not only to elevate contemporary English-language poetry, but also to give the reader a glimpse of its future—or, at least, one possible future.
Critics usually reserve such praise for works of truly experimental verse, and perhaps rightly so, for today's experiment can well be tomorrow's movement, as it was for T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and the modernists who came after them for decades. However, I would hesitate to call the poems in Jazz experimental in the most obvious sense. In terms of line and form—two of the most popular things to change up when a poet is seeking to innovate—they appear little different from the majority of the work being written today. Ferro's innovation lies not here but rather in the subjects with which he concerns himself, which ultimately all explore and address the same thematic area: being residents of a century in which we have everything we ever wanted and nothing we ever wanted; in which we can do anything we want but don't know what to do; in which we think we should have all the answers but suspect that we don't have any, and that we never will.
Those Pedestal readers who have kept up with my reviews over the years know that I am fond of calling attention to the speculative elements of various poets' works; that is, noting when their writing engages with tropes found in science fiction, fantasy, horror, or any combination thereof. While many speculative poets are content to keep their work well within these boundaries, fewer take the eternal question of "What if?" that speculative work inherently poses and apply it to life as we actually live it in the here-and-now.
Ferro, on the other hand, does this in abundance. Several of the best poems in Jazz take science fiction and horror tropes and use them to explain the 21st Century as many Americans currently experience it. In "Armageddon Days," for example, Ferro uses the image of the end of the world (recently made even more popular by reams of zombie fiction) and telescopes it into something much more detailed and individualistic: a man who is alone in the teeming streets of Manhattan and who is desperate for his lover to return to him. While the moon does not drip blood and "a million faces" shuffling past him are very much not brain-eating zombies, the terror, loss, and despair the speaker feels as he cowers in a phone booth on 47th Street can in no way be described as anything less than apocalyptic, his thoughts racing as he screams to a Savior who doesn't arrive.
Jesus, you there? maybe you can come—quick!
There is something to say for not saying anything,
right or wrong; solitary/strong; peace or fighting;
I'll be who I am; I don't know about you;
The wind in my veins getting colder every minute,
a million faces to see when I only need one:
hello? is anyone there? hello? hello? hello?
In "Life on Mars," Ferro utilizes what is something of a staple among science fiction novelists—the story about colonizing the red planet. While, granted, humanity has yet to do such a thing, the trope of settling Mars has long been used as shorthand for the apex of human achievement. In most cases, even when said colonization comes about because of tragedy on earth, as in Total Recall, authors and filmmakers still subtly ask the reader or viewer to wonder at the technological achievements that keep the air breathable and the temperatures tolerable. Ferro, however, holds these achievements up as illusory at best and insufficient at worst. Here, a spaceship lifts the speaker up into a "city of true believers" populated by an unusual list of "past heroes," including diarist and erotica writer Anaïs Nin and H.P. Lovecraft of Cthulhu fame.
…and they had redwoods and tall waterfalls and orange
hued canyons, deep blue oceans full of whales and mile
and in their deep green sky existed their God all of the time,
and I was naked and perfect and unafraid at every turn and
and over the airwaves they had me repeat my lines,
broadcast it out into their perfect minds that could hear
every thought all of the time.
And at night in my new home I lie there awake, staring up
into their bright green sky,
not thinking about God who was right there, but dreaming
about you instead, your naked body clutched tightly up against
my soul that was trembling…
In the 21st Century, the most optimistic among us share the dreams to which Ferro here alludes: a restored environment teeming with formerly endangered species; whole and hale brains connected as an internet-like hive-mind, thus removing the eternal problem of human isolation; and, even better, a God who is both visible and immediate. And yet, amidst all of this perfection, the speaker cannot stop longing for the basic human need for his lover, for companionship, for the tangibility of sex and romance. Nor can he forget the pain that exists alongside that sweetness.
…you quoted Anaïs Nin right before the power came back on:
We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are, you whispered;
and right then the phone rang as the lights came on up, and it was
your father calling, frantic, to tell you that your mother had just
This poem left me breathless, not only because it mercilessly skewered the idea of human progress, or because it pointed out that progress will never—and should never—stop us from being human, with all of the dysfunction that entails. The speaker here wants very much to embrace a utopia and the mindset that will leave one at peace among perfection. However, he cannot bring himself to do so because, deep down, he doesn't know what to do with such a world, and he wouldn’t know what to make of himself in such a world.
I wish that I could pick apart more of Ferro's speculative poems and tell you what makes them unforgettable. However, if I did so, this review would run for pages. A brief guide, then: "You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers" is a caffeinated trip through a world oversaturated by advertisements, junk food, and violence with images reminiscent of D. Harlan Wilson (another seminal voice in 21st Century English language writing) and an emotional punch at the end that is literally strong enough to make the reader gasp. “Arrete! C'est ici L'Empire de la Mort”— (French for “Stop! Here is the Empire of the Dead—”) uses the Parisian catacombs—that favorite setting of many a horror novel and movie—to explore the wild human fascination with death. "Chosen One" is a bloodier and more literal look at an end-of-the-world scenario. Each of these poems alone is worth the price of the entire collection.
I do not wish, however, to dismiss the poetry in Jazz that does not fit evenly or at all into the category of "speculative." “Post September 11th Syndrome” takes this generation-defining event beyond the headlines and uses it both respectfully and honestly to define the terror of jumping into a time where world politics and human relationships have changed drastically in an instant. "24/7," meanwhile, is a more traditional look at the violence and beauty that simultaneously permeate the world at every second, while "The Lord of Nothings" is a soothing poem that is abruptly turned on its back when grief strikes its speaker.
And "No. 5, 1948" (here reproduced in full) is a striking and understated look at human mortality.
We lit the candle right at the center of the cul-de-sac,
recited all the right incantation to make your ghost reappear,
scared like children, we had to run away out onto the abandoned
running to the edge of the woods like the deer run away,
and at the very top of the hill we saw the two purple sunsets,
and they dripped out of the sky like Jackson Pollock's
No. 5, 1948,
but the sun had already set that day, and we knew that the
world was dying, and that we were all dying too—that we had
only a few seconds left.
At a time when technology is advancing faster than our humanity can keep pace, and when scarcities, wars, waste, and environmental depletion are bringing us closer and closer to catastrophe, we need poets like Ferro more than ever, poets who remind us who we ultimately are and that our intelligence and pride alone cannot save us, if indeed we can or should be saved at all. Lest the reader think, however, that Ferro's work is uncompromisingly dark, I assure him or her that this is not so. Ferro's work abounds with something far better and, I think, far more useful than hope—that is, honesty, understanding, and both profound respect and profound love for our limitations as a species. Ultimately, in his words, these are what make us noteworthy, not the dualism of success and failure with which our species tends to view most things.
I recommend Jazz with the highest praise possible for readers who enjoy speculative poetry and the work of poets Corrine de Winter (who provided a blurb for the book) and Catherynne M. Valente in particular. Prose readers who enjoy the darker and more critical side of horror and Bizarro fiction, such as the work of the aforementioned D. Harlan Wilson, will also find much to appreciate here.
Rattle Magazine Book Review of Jazz by Jeanpaul Ferro
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.