Just for a Thrill, a collection of poetry published by Wayne State University Press and written by native Detroiter Geoffrey Jacques, is not what you'd call pretty poetry. It's not sunshine, roses and cheer. Rather, angry outcries, despairing jazz riffs and complete chaos color the landscape.
Jacques is an early MT jazz writer who moved to New York in the '80s. Through the years, he has employed his diverse skills as a union organizer, labor journalist, art critic and Lehman College teacher. His two previous books of poetry, Hunger and Other Poems (Ridgeway Press, 1993) and Suspended Knowledge (Adastra Press, 1998), did not due to the limitations of these small presses circulate widely. This new book, thanks to Wayne State's adoption, has the potential to reach a larger audience.
Just for a Thrill is drenched in themes of race, politics, economics and media in America an America where "the kids don't mow lawns," an America "deeply inured, totally inane, totally absent of social context/an intriguing metal masturbation multi-layered crisis."
The volume's voice is unsettling like sitting at a rickety, outdoor café table during a windstorm. It's urban, unapologetic, ironic and frustrated, and, as Jacques says, he's "got the nerve to question/this end-of-century model/its commanding synchronism, hissing & dripping."
The disjointed, cryptic style of Just for a Thrill calls to mind T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Reading these poems is like slowly turning a dial on a radio you hear half-coherent bits, fragments of meaning plucked from the everyday. Jacques' quotations, corporate slick-talk, song lyrics, clichés, catchphrases, advertising and political jargon, office chat and legalese build to a lonely and bleak landscape.
He wheels out intensely disturbing imagery; for instance, in "Commercial Euphoria," he includes "rabbits nibbling hotel debris." His war-poem "Mesopotamia" is loaded with haunting descriptions, such as the repeated phrase "born without skin" and the visceral ending, "lovers were suddenly torn apart at the genitals."
In whole, Just for a Thrill is a massive critique project, a call to action. In "White Supremacy is not Eternal," he summarizes, simply, "something needs to be done." And in "Six Episodes in the History of Flight," he urges, "our calling now is to pick up the pieces." Yet there's always, alternately, the looming possibility of defeat. In "Stomp," a poem concerning the death of a friend, Jacques turns Puritan John Winthrop's infamous "A Model of Christian Charity" sermon upside down, saying, "we can only aspire to imitate/the light at the bottom of a hill/where century-old houses feel/the earth's trembling sigh."
Consider yourself forewarned, though, because a little goes a long way. Jacques' particular style though perfectly suited to his message can get monotonous if read at a lengthy sitting. Just for a Thrill must be taken in with patience. And though the book succeeds as a theme project (um, what the hell is going on in America?), some of the poems, admittedly, would have trouble standing alone. Lastly, a final critique: What's up with the title? The artwork (done by Ed Clark) and the volume's title, promise a lark, a lighthearted thrill that never comes around.
No matter. What you'll find instead is much more rewarding than a simple thrill. These are wise insights and earnest warnings from the pen of Geoffrey Jacques, a teacher who understands "that friends need to be told only what they're ready to hear."
Heather A. McMacken is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.