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Jeanpaul Ferro

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Essendo Morti - Being Dead
by Jeanpaul Ferro   

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Category: 

Poetry

Publisher:  Goldfish Press ISBN-10:  0982466900
Pages: 

112

Copyright:  June 1, 2009 ISBN-13:  9780982466902

     

Written in the post-9/11 world of the September 11th terrorist attacks, this collection of poetry looks at the heart-breaking ideals of an American that only the dead know now.

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Excerpt

79 DEGREE PROBABILITY OF LOSS

What beautiful death there is in Madonna de Campiglio,
the peasant people frozen in ice in dance,
the slopes of Austria, and now they call it Italy,
another place you must come, one more dream to put
your trust in,

and you can’t believe you’ll ever do it again,
swimming in the light and shadows where you’ve drowned,
the gum arabic and green volatilize of valle Verzascaa—
the river where you saw the diver from Lucerne go down three times,
the way you held his girl friend, the river from the glacier, minion and nonpareil, crystalline, his body preserved, Russian experiment in the stone houses of Sonogno,

the ache in my body as you ease yourself against me,
the way your legs cower out, the ecstasy in your pain,
in the white under your flesh in your bones,
the risk, the knife of your spine,
and I take it, twist and turn and bludgeon it,
and the body moves, consumes all of me, and you give in, and you die in a way too, so cold here in the Dolomites, always writing by candlelight, the bathroom out in the hallway, and dance without music—

the sound of your hands against the piano back in the states.




Professional Reviews

Gently Read Litature Review of Essendo Morti - Being Dead by Jeanpaul Ferro
He Cannot Find It Within Himself To Be On Any One Side: Thomas Alexander on Jeanpaul Ferro’s Essendo Morti

Essendo Morti—Being Dead, Jéanpaul Ferro, Goldfish Press

Providence poet and novelist Jéanpaul Ferro has created a masterpiece with his first full-length book of poetry, Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009). Written in the winter and spring of 2004, it captures a stark, brutal, and sometimes morbid post-9/11 world in which the living exist in a trance of orange and red terrorist alerts and the dead are the only ones who can remember America. Suddenly, the United States has been transformed from a concept that Ferro was once in love with to this almost intangible entity that he doesn’t even recognize anymore.

In The Book of Mary (America), Ferro’s country, positioned as the girl in the poem, has set herself up in opposition to the veneration that she once received so freely:

You and I are a million words that don’t exist yet,
startled one hour, starving for each other the next,
both of us underdeveloped in our togetherness,
cutting each other’s wrists in the kitchen sink,
blood the color Henry Miller would write it,
in a moment when we both realize there is no use lingering,
pain like God’s pain, his eyes bulging from the wars,
through the blue room you can feel it in your throat,
you tear your clothes off, hang yourself by your hands with rope,
you are the most secret thing in the world, rain on a dark child’s face,
you break me because you want all of me,
you love me because the pain is that enormous,
this is right now, tonight, yesterday, a million years in the future,
I drive in a yellow cab looking for you everywhere,
“Come,” I hear you saying; “Come,” I hear in darkness;
“People are just things,” you keep signing to me in my hand—
as though we can both just edit a lifetime full of mistakes.

Experimentation shows up throughout Essendo Morti – Being Dead not unlike the experiment that is the United States. But this United States has been taken over by Neocons and Neolibs as though they were the only ones who exist. Ferro often uses the page as a blank canvas where words, equations, and digital characters can be used to paint a vivid picture or a dream of alienation. In Election Day (Between Midnight and Dawn) he cannot find it within himself to be on any one side:

Electron in hydrogen atom,
two centrical figures,
two sides, and I’m not on either one:
|B> = b1|A1> + b2|A2>

There are other poems such as The Elementary Particles that are created so that they are both a painting and a poem. Some of these metaphysical poems are experimental to the extreme while others simply make words go up hill or push letters of snow across a page. There are other poems that are simply stunning and beautiful with the mere use of their imagery as in Watering a Post:

We were all born from the sons of pain,

an L of stars that graced the four corners
of the nighttime sky,

Helen, we called one;

she looked like a finger pointing right back at us,

Robert was another;

he looked like a lost man in the dead of winter,

The September 11th terrorist attacks play an underlining theme throughout the book. American has become this place haunted by an act of war carried out by ghosts we cannot see or attack directly—a scar that has changed the very landscape of her soul. Ferro sees these acts as something that the country cannot articulate or won’t articulate (even now). Maybe it is out of self-preservation. Maybe it is due to the fact that it is easier to look outward than it is to look in the mirror. The Hours Happened is set on September 11th, but now almost 8 years later the feeling in the United States about that day really has not changed or grown from those very first hours of destruction:

We drove out of Vendian and out into Ordovician,
The air moist and warm blowing through our hair,
New York City rising in gray vaults off on the horizon,
Abandoned dreams behind us in our rear view mirror,

We stepped all through the hot ash after reaching ground zero,
Leaving only our footprints to prove that we were there,
A part of me couldn’t grasp what had just happened,
You looked at me and said: “Can you describe all of this?”
I looked over at you and I said: “I don’t think I ever can.”

Author Michelle De Winter has recently stated that Jéanpaul Ferro is one of the great voices of his generation. Most of his work, and most of Essendo Morti – Being Dead, is topical and based on contemporary events. It is difficult to look at the death camps of North Korea or the direct aftermath of the Iraq war, but Ferro does it with both grace and dignity. Like any great poet or writer, he does not try to make the decision of what is right or wrong for you, but he reports what he has witnessed and leaves the truth of the consequences up to you in poetry that none of us will be able to forget.


Rattle Magazine Review of Essendo Morti - Being Dead by Jeanpaul Ferro
Review by Rachel Lancaster
ESSENDO MORTI – BEING DEAD
by Jéanpaul Ferro

Goldfish Press
500 E. Magnolia Avenue
Eustis, Florida 32726
ISBN 978-0-9824669-0-2
2009, 123 pp., $14.95
www.Goldfishpress.org

There is something magical, something at a deep unspoken level, within the passages of Jéanpaul Ferro’s new collection of poetry, Essendo Morti – Being Dead. Americans have been in a state of “being dead” since the September 11th terrorist attacks. Jéanpaul Ferro explores this theme of being dead as though it is a shared cultural feeling, similar to Nietzsche exclaiming over one hundred years ago “God is dead!” This is definitely a new truth that he is putting forth across the downtowns and side streets of America. No, according to Ferro, the American Dream has already died, and now the masses are in a state of becoming a living dead. It is red state verses blue state. Liberal verses conservative. God verses Darwin. A dream verses reality.

In the title poem, “Essendo Morti – Being Dead,” all of this is already self-evident:

Winter arrives, the birds all gone,
the skies stained in arctic blues,

we tire out easily through the hallucination,
our minds wet by the explosions,

we watch the thin rivers snake through the backyards
(looking for signs of life),

in dreams the bodies float away like homemade boats
down to the frozen waterfall,

night unearths every mass grave—
the intrinsic momentum-phenomena of light,

we fall to our knees to petition God,
beg him like we beg him to be saved,

each dream lasts up past springtime,
beneath the DMZ, all the orbiting planets,

until a simpler life—the migrating birds,
smoke rustling about our chimney tops.
Ferro moves back and forth out of a sort of magic surrealism. A country can be a woman, God or alienation can be a computation, and symbols can become words. In the poem, “W (Providence)” he says about the rules of life and love and writing and politics and his generation … everything: “here are the new rules: there are no rules.” Oh, you got guts brother!

Essendo Morti – Being Dead is a lot like Bob Dylan or maybe like PCP—it facilitates self-exploration into those dreamlike states of mind that it leaves you in. In “Dreams of Men” you are suddenly in a North Korean concentration camp. Ferro takes us there as though we are that prisoner; as though he can whisk us away through a dark portal and drop us right there behind those walls. And after you have been beaten and humiliated for 3 ½ years your wants are so simple that they are breathtakingly haunting:

you have a 5-foot-by-5-foot underground cell,
you are hit, you are raped, and you are tortured,
you creep, you crawl, and you cower,
you are crushed, you are experimented on,
you are rushed off your feet by freezing water,
you are poisoned, starved, gassed, you are cut up,

you are told your dead children’s names over and over;

I smashed my fingertips so they would kill me,
but they laughed at me for over 3 ½ years instead,

I huddled in the corner all night and tried to dream—

dream of my fingertips touching the wet sands of the ocean,
dream of the bright garden stars rising out in the backyard,
dream of your hips with cinnamon and parsley,
dream of your body rising sunward like a blue sunflower,

dream of flying south over the distant mountain tops,
so we can die together in a beautiful peace.
Jéanpaul Ferro speaks not only for his American brethren, but also for his human breathren across this giant blue planet of ours. There is a rich world view here even when he is writing about America—a world view that encompasses different perspectives and different styles, and might be suited to include everyone, not just the population of one place. A brilliant new talent, he has taken decorum and thrown in out, has taken the sanctuary of poetry-academia and thrown it out, and has found a way to make all of this seem old and yet new again. Bravo for Essendo Morti! I could hardly get enough. And now I am waiting for whatever might be next.


Pedestal Magazine Review of Essendo Morti - Being Dead by Jeanpaul Fero
Essendo Morti – Being Dead
Jeanpaul Ferro
Goldfish Press Publications
ISBN Number: 078098246699Z

Reviewer: JoSelle Vanderhooft


“Written in the post-9/11 world of the September 11th terrorist attacks this collection looks at the heart-breaking ideals of an America that only the dead know now.”

The above quotation is poet Jeanpaul Ferro’s description of his latest poetry book Essendo Morti – Being Dead and can be found on the book’s back jacket. Upon reading it, and after finishing the book, I was surprised to see how far my estimation of the collection diverged from Ferro’s (and perhaps his publisher’s). While there is certainly much darkness, confusion, and heartbreak to be found in Essendo Morti, and while the voices most frequently heard are those of the dead or of memory, it never occurred to me that the book was about a vanished America remembered only by the dead; or, if one looks at the quote from another angle, even about an existing America so confusing or corrupted that only the dead can fully understand it. Rather, the sense of disillusionment I read in much of Essendo Morti seemed much too immediate and much too common to post-9/11 art and writing to be the province of the deceased, or, really, all that different from the feelings of outrage and sorrow our perpetually out of control nation has inspired since at least the Great Depression.

Perhaps I have misread Ferro’s thesis. Perhaps our difference in perspective is the result of a generational divide: I came of age during the selfish 80s and cynical 90s, and an America of commonly held ideals has always been dead for me. And though I do not know Ferro’s age, the poems about the Korean War scattered like shrapnel throughout his collection make me think he is at least twenty years my senior. Whatever the cause, I found Essendo Morti to be more of a profound meditation on our nation’s collective sorrow and frustration in a new, perilous, and isolating century than I found it to be a nostalgic treatise on a country long transformed.

Though, then again, the two may not be so very different.

True to promise, Ferro addresses 9/11 and the world changed at multiple points throughout Essendo Morti, in poems like the punchy “Ground Zero,” about the still-abiding fear among many New Yorkers that every passing plane could signal destruction, and the sober “The Hours Happened (9/11)” (here reproduced in full), which perfectly describes the shock felt in those first few days after the World Trade Center’s collapse. I have read few poems that so adeptly capture the shock and the waking nightmare of that time—and simultaneously the shock and terror the United States is still experiencing.

We drove out of Vendian and out into Ordovician,
The air moist and warm blowing through our hair,
New York City rising in gray vaults off on the horizon,
Abandoned dreams behind us in our rear view mirror,

We stepped all through the hot ash after reaching ground
zero, Leaving only our footprints to prove that we were
there, A part of me couldn’t grasp what had just happened,
You looked at me and said: “Can you describe all of this?” I
looked over at you and I said: “I don’t think I ever can.”

Fascinatingly, the book is structured so that 9/11’s shockwave ripples simultaneously into the present and the past, to the horrors of a North Korean POW prison in “Dreams of Men,” the messy Second Gulf War in “Iraqi Occupation” where “Bombed out cars look like movie relics,/ like they could have been left on the moon,” and even to the greed and obscenity of Wall Street in “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man”—a poem either written in honor of the 2008 recession or eerily prefiguring it (the book’s 2009 publication date makes it hard to be certain). Either way, I suspect it will be remembered as one of the first published poems to deal with the mindset and practices that brought the States into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Here, Ferro ingeniously describes Wall Street in somewhat Miltonic terms as a bejeweled “pandemonium” populated by

confidence men who are good at what they do
only in a world full of confidence;

pulling out gold bars from out of the decks,
pulling out a thousand braids of America’s
hair that has grown long now;

trying to make us feel not so lonely—the way God
gets lonely after he looks at us for too long;



buying and selling thin air like the thin air in a bar
after the drunken soldiers have arrived;

And when this demonic city-within-a-city ruptures, Ferro prognosticates…not prophetic doom exactly, but something much more profound: the futility of the entire enterprise, given not only the transitory nature of financial institutions, but the quietude, perhaps even eternal nature, of the human soul.

but then the honeycomb breaks apart, wet, like
under an old log;

glistening down river for a while until the warm
summer waters recall all of it—like it never even
existed;

all the screams staining the inside of our souls,
where it stays quiet amid the ashes piled high along
the side streets where we once roamed.

While the horrors of wars past and present and the relatively new horrors of this round of financial carelessness are certainly disturbing and cause for disillusionment, this horror and disillusionment are, sadly, not new to the American psyche—though, certainly, the recent Iraqi War and economic crisis have caused Americans of all ages (and the young particularly) to rethink our follies and our priorities. Rather, a separate set of poems in Essendo Morti seemed, to me, to comment more on America’s dying, dead, and in-flux ideals. I speak of the book’s poems about women, poems which actually greatly outnumber those focusing on any explicitly political subject.

In these poems, Ferro’s (ostensibly male) speakers alternately celebrate, objectify, lust after, and genuinely love women, in much the same way America as a nation has done for a little over two centuries. Some of these women are quite literally the dead, such as the rain-soaked ghost in “The Apparition” or the girl clutching strawberries in “Throw Like a Girl,” who appears to be both spirit and a symbol of a more innocent America that is rapidly fading. Others are disaffected, Paris Hiltonesque celebrity/socialite/models (“The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish was Not Fulfilled”), accident victims (“July 5th”) or, most often, wives, girlfriends, mistresses, or lovers remembered, as in “Island Songs.” In this piece (here reproduced in full), a speaker recalls a particularly gentle vacation spent with a woman he loved:

Warm winds
and the early morning blue sky,

the sheer joy of Bob Marley
playing on the radio inside,

crème de la crème,
because we hear the voices of children playing,

I look at your beautiful face,
all tan from the sun,

I feel 2 ½ years of music
inside of my body,

you move closer, our hands touch,
your lips touch my lips,

we hear Zimbabwe
coming on the radio now,

you push back from me and say:

“Let’s go back inside and pretend
that today is yesterday again.”

Most of these poems about women feel, to me, as if they were written from an older viewpoint—indeed, perhaps from that of the dead mentioned in the book’s title. Yet, I detect little to no trace of longing for the good old days when “men were men and women were women” or when “women knew their place.” Rather, these pieces strike me as both the memories of long-lost men and, overall, a meditation on the way that men have viewed women throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st.

While Essendo Morti is impeccably structured and its pages home to many provoking poems, a few nonetheless felt tinny, even out of place. The use of Egyptian embalming practices as an extended metaphor for a lonely lover’s memories in “El-Iskandariya,” for example, fell particularly flat. Likewise, some poems, such as “Talking to Yahweh at Raudhatain,” a piece about the carnage in Iraq, offered little freshness on the subject. But overall, I found that the book’s stronger pieces outweighed its weaker offerings.

And overall, I think that the collection is much less bleak than its title or thesis implies. In “Manhattan,” my favorite selection, Ferro chronicles the beauty and squalor of the borough most devastated by the 9/11 attacks. Proclaiming it “Shakespeare on a bad night,” he leads the reader through its cacophony of architecture, up the monolithic Empire State Building, through Chinatown, Little Italy, and the harbors, among all the people of various races and ethnicities who call it home—the honest workers and the rapists and murderers alike—their dreams of fame and fortune, or even just their desires to see a good ballgame. And while the city remains “a terrorist’s target ground zero; a bull’s eye; fool’s gold;” it is, nonetheless, not to be given up on. Ferro closes the poem with these reassuring words:

It is truly going to be okay.

While readers of various generations will probably draw different conclusions about the nature and tenor of Essendo Morti, I believe that this ability to inspire different impressions is one of the book’s strengths. While I think Ferro’s work crosses multiple interests, I recommend it primarily to those who enjoy contemporary American poetry and those poetry readers who ponder America’s history and its current sense of direction.


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