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  • Jeffrey Cyphers Wright (bio)
Cubist States of Mind / Not the Cruelest Month
Marc Jampole
The Poet's Haven
36 Pages; Print, $6.00

Reading Marc Jampole's verse reminds me of an old adage I just made up: Words are the matter of poetry—music is the mortar. Jampole combines words and music seamlessly, creating potent tone poems. "A wind full of ocean" becomes the subject of a mellifluous bouquet. "Undivided Stillness" echoes with insights on isolation and integration. Indeed, the questioning of space between the singular and the universal is central throughout as the very atmosphere itself is plumbed for its recesses and riddles.

Hence: zen jazzmine wizardry.

In his first book, Music from Words (2007), Jampole introduces an innovative brand of linguistic liquidity. We often find bunched rhymes and alliterative bursts. Here is an extreme example.

A muggy ocean breeze…fills the streets with sticky nuzzlesand the puzzle of the clouds:will it drizzle, will it drench…

Another stylistic flourish involves surprising syntactical juxtapositions like "above us tendriled contrail welkin…." These techniques work together to both support and deflate the existentially elegiac undertow. They also offset the literary danger of overly relying on one or the other.

Finding music in the words is evident in the playful poem "July 4th." In this dialogue with a three year old, Joe Venuti becomes the nom du jour. Everything is a "Joe Venuti."

And the three year old at the picnicsaid she wanted to play the violinand I said just like Joe Venutiand she said, You're Joe Venutian she pulled a tuft of grass and said,here's some Joe Venuti.

Another sort of list poem, "Faith Is a Fine Invention," begins with an epigram by Emily Dickinson. Jampole often speaks through varying masks, from Victor Hugo to Moses to Gilgamesh, exploring legends and archetypes to find beauty and meaning, as here: "formal eternal / mouth moves and makes no sound, then sound of soundlessness."

In several poems, a melancholy examination of unfulfilled fates is effectively evoked in a slate-gray palette. For instance, the protagonist of "Thomas Alfred Thinks of His Princesses" is a lonely conformist caught in a shiny grind. The presence of a paralyzed J. Alfred Prufrock (T. S. Eliot) obviously hangs over the poem.

"29 Birds (after Audubon)" reads like an ekphrastic erasure work from a guide book (with a sly cross reference to Wallace Stevens' "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"). Jampole has a wonderful ear for placing words in a way that animates them and gives them interactive agency, such as "… screeches floating feathers settling cliffward. / Falcon."

By way of conflating these two poems, let me quote the venerable Helen Vendler. "The blackbird has perhaps something in common with Eliot's 'shadow' that falls between potency and act, desire and consummation."

Jampole exploits that gap as well—that negative space between positive connectors. In his new double book Not the Cruelest Month/Cubist States of Mind, he has sharpened his skills. The poems in Not the Cruelest Month (with its continued association with Eliot) are, in part, a Romantic overture to April.

Nature mingles with the city and its inhabitants in immersive sketches. The wind "gently licks the high rise dwellings." It is "uncorrupted by the fumes / of buses, taxis, cars, and trucks." This diacritical stance, of opposing forces interacting, adds underlying suspense.

The dual role of mother nature, its sexuality and its reproductivity, is looked at in "The Legs of Nature:"

Between the legs of nature,she's mothering but not a mother,more a fickle courtesanto bend at waistand let her whisper reassuring liesabout forever after possibilities.

Continuing to confront dualities, the courtesan in the poem is also an oppositional type compared to the poet. She is not one to "pretend to feel / the dissonance between a life and a language." Yet this carnalized heroine "makes the lie behind the promise of each moment / more attractive than the moment."

Finding unity in antithetical propositions is perfectly expressed in the title "Storm Music." Both eight-line stanzas begin with description and end with a...


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