Jennifer Jean in her collection Voz navigates racism, absence of parents/poor parenting, hardship and loss. In the collection one is made to feel exactly how Jennifer Jean feels. This is done through the compelling use of language; both in abstraction and in their concrete form. For instance, in the poem “The Doors of perception”, Jean uses “Door” in both its abstract form and in its concrete form: first, to represent a physical entry and exit point of a place and second, to represent any form of escape. In the poem, Jean says “My father leapt on stage at the Hollywood bowl/to grab drum & cymbal sticks/from a star, a door, a Door. White. Security thugs/ dragged him off/John Densmore. He saw doors everywhere, he saw Doors/everywhere—at the Whisky, the Beanery, the Magic Mountain Fest—&/in primary colors/in winward, oakwood, or North of Rose”. The constant repetition of “door” goes to show the mystery behind its usage in the poem. Nonetheless, in the last part of the poem, the mystery is solved as the poet says “He found a motel room door, particle door, & shut it/on all that he owned/for fifty years. He lived there, adding up primary colors,/hour to hour in Bliss Consciousness—/crossing his legs on the bed, letting electric snow/hush the TV. Hush/gunfire &/blood. He forgot his father’s father’s Cabo Verde & let himself be Italian there—/a different kind of Venetian because who he really was was/too close to Black”.
The progression from abandonment to racial prejudice is very crucial to the assemblage of the poems in the collection and it is something I deeply admire. In the first poem, Jean explains that their father is seeking a “Door”, an escape from his skin which is “too close to black” and in the next poem “Desperado” Jean mentions that “96 million black shade balls” were dumped “into some Los Angeles reservoirs” which reinforces the need for their father to find escape from his “close to Black” skin. Within the poem, there is also a longing for a father figure in the poetic persona’s life. This longing is visible where the poetic persona says “it was the song/on Santa Monica’s carousel when I looked for a daddy/on that spinning pier. A pier is like a hand reaching out”. Still in the poem, the absence of love goes in tandem with that of the absence of father and with this, Jean cries “I love my dies but he can’t love me, no matter/how much I let him”. This lamentation evokes a feeling of sorrow because it begs that question; how can an absent father love you even when you let him.
In the collection, it is not only the father who is culpable in the absence but the mother too. This leaves the readers with a feeling of void that needs to be filled. Jean, with a simple, narrative yet conversational language takes on the ordeal they faced in life, having to struggle through the racist society in which they were born into without parents until later when the mother returned as is portrayed in the poem “Streets are uneven when you’re down/when you’re strange”;
& I still can’t see the beach. But I see
Crushed cans & foamy to-go containers piling
& piling around Venice. I see a stiff
Seated body on the cart. Sunken eyes, lips in a line.
No peace. No peace
Like the pacific I imagined when mom said, “let’s go”
To the beach!’ & all was forgiven—
Her seven-year absence forgiven.
All in all, Jennifer Jean’s Voz is a fine collection that takes you through the drama of family, the absence of parents, the loss of love, the struggles and hardships of life as well as what it means to be Black in America. However, it is also a collection filled with adventures, beaches and forgiveness.