"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Friday, March 24, 2006

birds for example (Jess Mynes)

Wallace Stevens somewhat famously wrote that a good poem would almost successfully resist the intelligence. What he really meant by this is anyone’s guess. The good poem, perhaps, doesn’t yield its meaning immediately, doesn’t give itself over too easily, but requires careful scrutiny, or meditation, or caressing. Maybe he meant that. Maybe not.

Joseph Ceravolo read his poems twice, so his audience could understand them. He wrote poems that seemed to transcribe the words that clustered around certain pure emotional impulses. Reading a Ceravolo poem is not an exercise in intellect, is not a test of intelligence as much as it is a trial of empathy, of emotional identification, and the willingness of the reader to let go of language qua language and give in to language stripped bare, made new in disjunction occasioned by powerful feeling.

Both Stevens and Ceravolo worked in slightly varying strains of the Romantic tradition. If Stevens is Shelleyan, Ceravolo is Wordsworth at his least indulgent. John Clare too.

Which brings me to Jess Mynes. Mynes’ poems don’t so much resist the intelligence as imbue the sensitive reader with a new intelligence; when you read a Jess Mynes poem, you re-learn seeing (think psychedelics but without the cheesy connotations, without the Peter Max and the Grateful Dead). His work contains echoes of both Ceravolo and Stevens, but he never appropriates the language or style of either poet. His voice is incredibly individual; new and familiar. It is familiar in the sense the he, like his predecessors, reminds us of the sheer wonder of the natural world and the world of the mind and heart. It is individual because nobody writes like Jess Mynes. Nobody can.

I first encountered his poems a few years ago in Aaron Tieger’s CARVE and was utterly blown away. We later published him in The Canary, and since, I’ve read (I think) everything he’s published and have had the pleasure of meeting the man, sharing some beers, and hearing him read. And as Jess says, it’s the work that matters. This is not to say that Jess is not a lovely man—he certainly is. It’s to say that the work itself is so solid, so impermeable, so uniquely alive and strong that meeting and knowing Jess Mynes does nothing at all to my reading of the work. This is, I think, a rare thing.

Nothing in birds for example (out now from CARVE) rings false. You will want to read these poems (and hear them) twice—not to “understand” them but to know and feel them. Mynes’ favorite color is blue, and his themes are change, alteration--not just the seasons, but the swervings of the heart (to paraphrase another great American original, A.R. Ammons). The emotional palette here is not so much narrow as it is selective and eclectic—not-quite despair melds with ecstatic awe and the sort of plainspoken statements that seem obvious only after we’ve read them: “I don’t see any sin in grief.”

Finally, Mynes’ poems deliver a muted joy. Muted only because he (they) know(s) that “sorrow is so often a tidy / secret” and choose not to forget this, but instead to celebrate man’s darker moments, and then balance them with instances of “bright pouring over”:

I will wind up
extemporaneous scraping
the bottoms of your
praise in an easy
to picture fall
who are we to say cities
do not create nature
and so the birds are
only of one tradition
though they riot at
sundown from these
very tree tops louder
than tricycles scratching
down a sidewalk on
this morning that was
once an evening screeching
along in hell-bent
chorus waiting to
fill you up with a bright
pouring over

--Jess Mynes

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Speaking as the publisher, thanks for the awesome review of this book.

Speaking as a normal person, I thought Jess' favorite color was orange.