THE FOOL by Jessie Jones
Review by Bill Neumire
The fool’s manifestation in Jessie Jones’s debut full-length poetry collection comes as the speaker centers herself as an isolated sovereign, as an I fortifying itself against the world, which comes out at times as lonely, and at times as powerfully self-confident. According to the book cover, “In tarot, the Fool represents continual beginnings, not being able to see or think past the excitement and potential of a new start. The Fool is also associated with zero—a literal loop.” The fool has a few primary iterations in this collection. It is the loop, the loneliness, the dot, the zero. It is:
…….a fool quick
…….to extend the edge
…….until they are
…….and aren’t it.
Jones, whose work has been shortlisted for the Malahat Review’s Open Season Poetry Award, Arc’s Poem of the Year contest, and PRISM international’s Poetry Contest, presents an interrogated and besieged female body; it is a “a continuous refusal of the female body, mind, and psyche to be sayable or knowable, i.e. ‘kept.’” In other moments the speaker attempts “average / cleavage for all / the mirrors.” There is a full recognition of the body’s weaknesses, as the speaker says in ‘Self-improvement’: “Your skeleton reveals // itself to be a chair / so uncomfortable no one dares sit.” This presentation of the female and the body under attack, under gaze comes out most concerningly in this stunning passage from ‘Bloom’:
…….What language is this, total rejection
…….of red hammering a valley
…….through the body? Glory.
…….Watched, girls do harm
…….to the shape
…….of themselves, sink through space
…….toward empty comprehension
…….where the question of stopping
…….stops the thought mid-think.
…….Watched, girls expel
…….their selves in order to survive.
…….Wind runs through the gulf
…….of them and they all leap
…….into the sky, exhausted.
The body has clearly suffered in desire as we read how she swallowed “a blade that would not break / down” and “might again / if he asked me now.” The speaker even asks, “When we at last arrive, will desire conclude?”. There are, though, movements toward appreciation and expansiveness, the speaker noting she has “two terrific tits and a backpack / full of bathtub gin” as she makes a New Year’s resolution to “love everything.” This self is contained in a body, but that split is apparent, as we see in Runner’: “The forward of your body // the only wholeness it knows.” The body internalizes and the internal self grows in power and sovereignty as the book moves: “I will recite: / This body includes, and is / the meaning.” The body improves and expands until “Fineness finds you stock-still / but borderless, claiming territory / in every direction.”
The dot is the self that “comes back in turns, / in sunburns, in the symphonic shift, / to spring.” It is the I who is “a winsome / dimple on the dance floor with one move / too few.” It’s an I that “want[s] to be seen,” though the terms of the perception are in constant negotiation, as the speaker conveys, apotheosizing into a rhetorical saint, in ‘Saint teen’:
…….to the possibility of my own
…….hagiography. Like, how
…….will they paint me?
It’s a paradoxically independent yet lonely speaker, a zero dot looking out upon a world that is painfully separate, an I carefully guarding itself, as in this section from ‘Saint teen’:
…….I feel a warm glow rustling around me
…….like a gold boa, but even love
…….is a threat to my sovereignty. The only
…….voice I want to hear in my ear is one
…….saying it doesn’t deserve me.
The sovereignty of the I in its exclusion from others is at center stage as the speaker instructs, “In exclusion, / you are born again” even as the speaker also admits “fear of being caught and held / (…) / Fear of the enormous alone.” In fact, in ‘Lead ghost,’ almost every line starts with the anaphoric “fear of” in a catalogue of anxieties until the climactic final line: “Fear no hook no point to any of it.” The upside of this solitude is a ferocious devotion to the power of the self, of the inward, of the mind that wonders, “Is the night miked / for your crowing?”. It’s an I that grants permission to “[a]llow yourself to make you,” an I that “will flourish / even without permission.” After all, “fool is to worry. Fool is to wait / For someone to tell me what I know / Already.”
The last section of the book is a single long poem called ‘Infinity Mirror.’ It reads as constant interruption and reminder of the dot:
…….All the dot
…….sounds the world makes spontaneously
…….dot confidently—my name is in them too
…….a three-syllable prism balanced
…….on a blade Someday it will be pronounced
…….just right light refracted
…….through its middle and I’ll multiply
This book is a celebration of the fool, which is the sovereign self that is embedded in infinity and yet tempted and taunted by the external. It tracks an aesthetic self-help movement (not the problematic bookstore genre; the notion of harnessing one’s mind and perceptions and using that understanding to advance as a being) from loneliness to multiplicity and valence, veering from, “[w]ill you reveal my true form to me if I keep posing?” to “I mean to love everyone.” A new chapter in the old mind-body problem, the eponymous fool moves through the traps of the body, through the problems of gaze and perception and desire and image, into its mind, its confidence and authority. There is sacrifice in the moves here, but the reward is a prophetic permission granted to others to accomplish the same.
Bill Neumire‘s first book, Estrus, was a semi-finalist for the 42 Miles Press Award and his second manuscript was recently a finalist for the Barrow Street Prize. It will be published in 2022 by Unsolicited Press. He serves as poetry editor for Verdad.