T(here) by Jonathan Hayes
(Phrygian Press, Bayside, NY, 2008)
Jonathan Hayes’ long poem reads like an elliptical novel about growing up and becoming a poet. The text reminds me much of Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer because both texts are mostly in prose and are in essence a short novel about growing up. But as Rimbaud’s famous work moves with a linear clarity Hayes’ text says much about a singular life in fewer words and many gestures.
I found myself laughing aloud reading along because I think Hayes taps into the human comedy. Thus when a dominatrix refuses to be touched by her client and instead offers to fuck him we are treated to a worldview that is both touching and a bit touched.
She is in control. She does not get fucked.
Her asshole is off-limits.
No exchange of body fluids. If you want your dick sucked go to a prostitute.
She is an artist.
If that exchange might seem a bit odd, after all, why see her at all if there’s no warmth in the meeting between two humans, this passage is revelatory because it shows the task of the artist: to re-create an imperfect world into something beautiful. Thus the mother of this artist as a young man describes the developing poet as ‘a Brooks Brothers hippie.’ So many contradictions within that phrase that the mind spins in sheer delight for we all possess our own individual contradictions.
Even better are the contradictions of growing up a poet in a world that doesn’t prize much poetry. This book abounds in references to work, the real work of going to a daily job, every day, and still becoming a writer. I mention the work of going to a job because this poem lacks any self-pity or even grim determination of becoming a writer no matter the odds. Rather, the poem unfolds the way life does and the process of becoming a poet, which takes hard discipline, is an organic development. There are struggles in that development but it happens just the same as a boy grows into a man.
There is always a ‘here.’
The memory from, ‘there’ is the re-experience you
hold now, ‘here.’
They are inseparable.
There is no escape.
And so, I hope, is the life in poetry.
For in this life the child travels thru the United States to NYC, Boston, SF while working on fishing boats, orchards and bookstores.
Moderation is a pipe dream.
Which may or may not be true for every individual, yet the life limned within this book is a wild ride. I think this poem is a tour de force. What makes it exciting for me is not just the mixture of prose and verse or the slang spicing it up. What makes it exciting is the poet’s acute intellect and his love of living as he attempts to pack his book with the rich details of living.
Like a lot of poets who are writing excellent work today Jonathan Hayes deserves to be well-known. He has written a book of extraordinary resource and honesty. Furthermore, Hayes produced a singular vision of one poetic life. Finding a dominatrix who won’t be touched but who will transform your life perhaps is not the wish for every person. But for some the experience is a grounding in poetry.
richard lopez has a dyslexic heart. he's published a few chapbooks and hopes to publish more. you can find him at www.reallybadmovies.blogspot.com.