Elsewhere by Scott Alexander Jones
Black Lawrence Press, 2014; 53 pp
Reviewed by Robert Torres
Scott Alexander Jones’ elsewhere is a single cataract of a poem saturated with colors and technical terms, each line of which rings with brilliant clarity but, read as a whole, neuters itself with redundant nihilism. Much like a Twitter feed, elsewhere has more quotability than continuity.
The hour it takes overcoming gravity
on Whidbey Island
to realize the weight of a body on feet—
To feel the earth/s rotation
not pushing us to the ground, but pulling us away from sky
With lines like this, few could deny that Jones knows how to write a line of poetry. In elsewhere, he puts more attention to any given line than to the tempo or trajectory of the piece. This has a greying effect because the high energy of every line clouds the brilliance of the lines adjacent without providing context or plot to them.
Superficially, it is an undivided, novel-length poem without enough backbone to hold it together, but this might serve a purpose: to recreate the poet-narrator’s dissociation (or, desire for dissociation) from the tragic crux of the piece. That emotional turning point is never quite nailed down, but the lines speak of some absent “you” who may have died or broken up with the narrator.
I can/t help but remember you
onto a pile of sandals outside some tarpaulin yurt—
A scythed moon rising,
backlighting the whitewashed mountaintop pueblo of Cáñar—
Gypsy girls named Gaia
cajoling you into swallowing coal—
After all, the narrator’s refrain, “There isn’t a word for . . . ” frames the piece in a way that reminds the audience that while there are many wonders in the world, the poet-narrator still feels something missing, and thus lets this beauty pass him by.
Speaking technically, the author’s punctuations choices hinder the poem. He replaces most (but not all, strangely) of his apostrophes with slashes in a move reminiscent of Hubert Selby, Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. Jones, however, includes em dashes, ampersands and even the diacritic in “façade.” It creates a cluttered look in the poem. His capitalization appears random, neither adhering to standard style nor to any of his own. It looks sloppy and while it may be a move to show the audience how unconcerned the poem is with following convention, it doesn’t jive in a book that also contains a two-page “Notes” section that explains the more obscure allusions within the work. The book sends mixed messages about how well it wants to be understood.
Joness elsewhere radiates with strong prose, but doesn’t cohere enough to be readable in its entirety. It renders moments masterfully but, like some noise rock albums, it trails on too long to be digestible.