Summer 2004


Summer 2004

April Albrechtsen

“If only I were reviewed I could be famous,” the speaker in Jack Foley’s “The Poet’s Tango” decides as he dances, weaving increasingly wishful thoughts with his own intricate dance steps. Clear experimentation in the facet of voice and structure seems inherent in this chapbook of poetry, Jack Foley, Greatest Hits 1974-2003 (ISBN 1-58998-274-6, Pudding House Publications, Columbus Ohio 2004).

Self-proclaimed as first enjoying writing at the age of fifteen and waiting another eighteen years to “rediscover” his own capacity for poetry at thirty three, Foley has a definitive sense of style and assuredness, often making statements rather than asking questions. He touches on topics such as history (“Bridget, Pronounced “Breed””), politics (“Eli, Eli”), heredity (“On Hearing Irish Tenor Frank Patterson Sing”), death (“For Norman Goldstein 1925-1994”) and is clearly unafraid to discuss matters of the personal self, such as aging (“Portrait at Sixty”).

Many of Foley’s poems sport a unique form for free verse that is a maze all its own- placing words (for effect, meaning and a multitude of reasons which the reader might only grapple with) multiple spaces, even lines apart, imploring the use of italics, colons, dashes and all sorts of punctuation, seamlessly coalescing non-English phrases into his work. Poems, such as “Bridget, Pronounced “Breed”” even go so far as to create their own visible art on the page:
your body-endless-time
sweeps everything (wait and
and see) In the field the children “dance.” I wish.
My son
Time fixes everything-in the sense of
affixes it, immobilizes it-
covers everything, touches it

Where Foley succeeds is in the assertation, the brash, the blunt, “her lipstick turned her mouth into a scar.” He is undaunted in pushing deeper meaning into the mundane, to scatter images, to play with voice, often juxtaposing many within a particular piece. He also touches on a distinctiveness that is both fascinating and thought-provoking in poems such as “Bukowski” and “Dickinson,” creating patterns of thought and sound that are so masterful as to stand alone, though much more successful as they are presented - carefully constructed cogs placed within the rigid structure of preemptive beams. “Bukowski,” specifically, is a particularly pleasing achievement in an experimental form which takes a preexisting poem and creates it anew.

His “Portrait at 60” is similar to Stephen Dunn’s “Sixty” in an intrinsic way, each trying to capture the essence of something very big and very blurry, something which may or may not truly be there, the reality of aging. There must be something which tugs at the wrists during a specific time in life, imploring those such as Foley to hang a portrait that is him but fails to really look like him (being somehow more pure, real), in “ a place where the light shines deeply” and Dunn, to “keep on describing things to ensure that they really happened.

Listening to the included CD-ROM, which offers recordings of Foley reading his poetry, adds an entirely new level to the volume. Speech is a medium in of itself, and Foley has certainly mastered the craft. The softness of his voice mixed with precise inflections and incantations create not only a pleasant and soothing auditory melody, but a cathartic presence not often attainable though the brash laser tracks of a compact disk.

Foley’s words are touched with a deep sense of careful placement, consideration and purpose. His poetry has the ability to touch his audience on increasingly meaningful levels, allowing the reader to take from his art as much or as little as they chose. “It seemed an amazing discovery to realize that words on a page were made of letters,” states Foley in his foreword. Indeed, letters create words which create phrases, sentences, encompass thoughts, feelings, voice and meaning. As Foley says,
“the page is not the
natural diving point”.




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