Alive at the End of the World

Coffee House. Sept. 2022. 104p. ISBN 9781566896511. pap. $16.95. POETRY
Somehow only his third collection (counting a chapbook), Jones’s latest is yet another masterly work, though sung in a distinctly different tenor. Jones (author of the multi-best-booked 2019 memoir How We Fight for Our Lives) has always been a keen interrogator of identity—what it means to be Black, to be a man, to be gay, to be Southern—and in many ways this latest effort continues those threads from his multi-award-winning, multi-award-nominated Prelude to Bruise. But where Prelude to Bruise peered into a personal past, excavating experience in an effort to make sense of the present, Jones’s latest concerns itself with how a troubled present stretches out into a troubling future, levying a psychological tax: “yes, I hear the sirens and I am their scream but tonight, I will moan a future into my man’s mouth.” Prelude felt dipped in honey whiskey, dense with Southern-baked memories, while the new collection feels altogether more urgent, its disillusions and griefs and intimacies spilling across the page but balanced by punctuating pleasures: of love, of sex, of being alive. And while it’s also an angrier work, it’s no less aesthetically pleasing for it, with the poet maintaining his linguistic slickness despite a more nakedly assaultive emotional palette: “the bodies I broke and broke under… I grieve the men I mistook for one another and the mistakes I mistook for men.”
VERDICT Jones’s most free-flowing work yet, a centripetal collection where rage and pain and weariness swirl and coalesce with stunning emotional and conceptual clarity, yet so intimate it feels bled from the author’s very veins.
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