Lately, I’ve been reading some poetry collections that feel as if they were written solely for the doctoral student. So many dollar words, when nickel and dime phrases would do just as well. It gets frustrating, because I know the work is well written – the pieces, beautifully structured – but I need a dictionary for every piece, and it makes me move away from the work. So, it’s with immense pleasure that I say, thank you, Jeff Alessandrelli, for being incredibly smart, but not forcing me to do a Wikipedia search for every name used in your new collection, This Last Time Will Be The First.
With his newest collection, Alessandrelli, splits his pieces into four sections: People Are Places Are Places Are People, Jeffrey Roberts’ Dreamcoats, and It is Especially Dangerous to Be Conscious of Oneself, and You Can’t discover the Lost Treasure if the Ship Didn’t Sink.
People Are Places Are Places Are People gives us poems based around quotes from / about, or allusions to famous people. But, even if you don’t know the people, you can still work within the world of these pieces. For example:
“Understanding Marcel Duchamp”
One morning – I’m not sure why, maybe some type of lack or definition or half-tawdry want- I woke up, saw my neighbor’s bike lying in his driveway and just beat the shit out of it, just pummeled and crumpled and wracked and irrevocably dismantled it until what it was couldn’t even be called “bike” anymore; it was something else entirely. Then I went to work. When I got home that night my neighbor’s driveway was empty, his garage door closed. The bike was gone, all its recognizable parts absent, vanished, shaped into new and heretofore incalculable realities.
Even if you’re not an art major, or a bit unsure of Duchamp’s work, you can understand the dismantling of something concrete – the push to make it abstract, or violent, and then watch it all disappear. Alessandrelli allows us into the world, but gives us enough room to do some of our own exploration.
Jeffrey Roberts’ Dreamcoats puts us inside the world of an imaginary character. It’s a powerful look at the person we all talk to when, at times, we lose ourselves inside ourselves.
from “Introducing Jeffrey Roberts”
that even if
his parents had never been born,
his grandparents never
at the dance
or dinner party
or lake house retreat,
still would have.
This character, to whom we also get a semi-biography, lives out moments we are too scared to get through on our own. It works. It’s comforting to know that we’re not the only ones who rely on another persona once in a while.
I think the most powerful moments in this collection come in the third part – the climax, if you will – It is Especially Dangerous to Be Conscious of Oneself. This section is honest. This section is gives us those moments we have with ourselves. The use of parenthesis in each title, reminds us that these are thoughts we have that we are not going to share with the world. They are our asides:
And supposing tomorrow we are finally rich
against the morning, the streets
scrubbed clean of concrete asphalt and tar,
property lines extended skyward,
limbs no longer
indebted to our bodies
but splayed further, distant,
not a glass or plastic jar in sight
but still an abundance of peanut butter,
guilt-free boysenberry jam,
and then believing all this only
what the percentage is
in closing your eyes
and turning around,
desperately looking back.
The fourth section, You Can’t discover the Lost Treasure if the Ship Didn’t Sink, gives us one poem, and a stark look at “perfection.” It’s heavy, and deserves it’s moment in the spotlight.
This whole collection deserves a moment in the spotlight, and a lifetime of reading. So, thank you Jeff Alessandrelli, for your words, and for making us feel like we’re not alone in our thoughts. I mean, at least we’ll always have our own Jeffrey Roberts.