By Whisper Blanchard
“If I ever strangled sparrows/it was only because I dreamed/of better songs.”
Consider this line as an introduction into the work of Saeed Jones, a young poet who has recently published his debut collection, Prelude to Bruise, which was picked up by Coffee House Press and put on shelves in September of 2014. I’ve chosen this quote to show you what you will undoubtedly encounter upon reading: underlying desperation and frustration that spawns from the issues often present in these poems, such as an ambiguity with race, sexual orientation, and the exploration of the individual through such mediums. Brace yourself for the confusing comfort of vivid imagery offset by violence (or heightened by violence), a technique that defines Jones’ unique voice as a poet.
There are six sections overall in which Jones develops the poetic history of “the boy” in Prelude to Bruise; however, it is the first that I am instinctually drawn to. Though the first section does not address the powerful themes of sexual exploration or the violence of America’s history, which act as crucial catalysts later in the text, there is an evident level of humanity established here which will breathe life into the rest of the collection.
It is water that makes “the boy” real; water sometimes as a visual image, other times as a setting, or a sound, or the concept of leaking and spilling. Within every poem in section one, there is the presence of water in one form or another. This begins with the narrator of “Insomniac” instructing a mother: “dream/him grown and gone: far off, a vial of your tears/on his nightstand.” Perhaps this same mother is echoed in “The Blue Dress,” a poem consisting of associative thoughts which move very much like water and summon it directly: “Her blue dress is a silk train is a river/…the ring-ting-ting of water dripping.”
In a sense, water as a multi-faceted theme becomes the life force for the voice of the narrator, like blood within a body. If we consider that water is essential for life—that everything living relies upon it—this rule can apply to poetry, as well, and Jones has taken advantage of this (perhaps even without meaning to).
Even where there is no literal mention of water, there are clouds, blood, the concept of drowning, or even spilling. For example in “Closet of Red,” the narrator explains that, “in place of no, my leaking mouth spills foxgloves.” Such a vivid image earns its sense of “truth”, perhaps, through mimicking the truth of the nature of water. This technique is prevalent even for Jones’s ideas of love in “Boy Found Inside A Wolf,” as the narrator describes “his love a wet shine/all over me.” As we move through the collection and the presence of water remains a constant, ever-expanding idea, it becomes a comfort to us as the readers. It is a constant presence in everyday life, outside of Jones’s writing, and it speaks to our humanity—which, in turn, reflects back upon the poetry.