This Last Time Will Be the First
by Jeff Alessandrelli
Burnside Review Press, 2014; 89 pp
Reviewed By Patrick Haas
Jeff Alessandrelli’s second collection, This Last Time Will Be the First, is a treasure chest of false memories, contradictions, “semi-biographies” and absurdist tales about both real and imaginary characters. Cameos in the poems include Gertrude Stein, Barbara Guest, Carmen Sandiego and Evel Knievel. They all appear in fictitious situations, much like Alessandrelli’s first book about Erik Satie. Throughout, both personal and political statements are intertwined, creating a tapestry of poems that change forms as unexpectedly as new characters show up. He writes, “Sixty million people were killed during World War II./Only fifteen million people were killed during World War I.//One day I want to meet someone/named Allison Wonderlund.”  Divided into four sections, it reads, at times, like an homage to David Markson and his paired down suggestiveness, making use of random anecdotal details but never interpreting those details for the reader. These poems want to know but doubt knowing, and yet, lines reappear as titles so that the poems cross-reference themselves as if they’re source of truth for each other. Overall, Alessandrelli’s poems embody a paradoxical distrust of fact with a constant returning to fact as a source of reference for the speakers in the poems. The end result is an entertaining, insightful book of poems that refuses to settle and embodies a restless, self-conscious pursuit of how a poem both knows and doesn’t know.