Thursday, May 2, 2019

Greg Jackson's Poetry

Greg Jackson’s “Poetry” (4/29/19) is one of those New Yorker short stories that stands out. It can be overbearing (it’s certainly not an example of the kind of Carveresque minimalism that the magazine once championed), but it’s more exceptional than it is heavy-handed. It’s ostensibly about the conflict between the narrator, James and his significant other, Celeste, who attempt to climb too high. Celeste by the way sports a “Fleurs du Mal” T-shirt. It’s also about the eating of forbidden fruit. The symbolism might set off alarms, but the title actually refers to the process of the story’s own inception. “Poetry” runs rings around traditional narrative. It's a poem in the guise of a short story. Chief among Jackson’s poetic devices beyond the allegory that runs rampant is the use of aphorism. “Kafka once remarked there is hope, but not for us,” is an early sally. And here is the narrator on his French born landlord, Jacqueline. “Suddenly I understood that, for her, every experience was the disappointing shadow of what she had allowed herself to imagine ahead of time.” Jacqueline is by the way a poet  whose work “was the inadequate and bitter fruit of the purer and more beautiful impulse to write poetry, which survived, inviolate, no matter how poor and insufficient the words were.” Celeste ends up vomiting all night, while the narrator emerges unscathed with “the apple...still inside me.” “I have not died yet,” he says and referring to the dangerous climb he goes on to remark “and to judge by this unbroken streak of not dying I will live forever.” Like poetry? “Poetry’s” tsunami of association provides an endorphin rush that in the end comes full circle, creating in the reader the equivalent of an old-fashioned Aristotelian catharsis.

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