Jim Zola, Monday After the End of the World, Kelsay Books, American Fork, Utah 2020, ISBN: 978-1-952326-39-4, 98 pages
Poetry is a battle or a truce between the rational and the irrational. Thought is embodied in emotion and vice versa. And you add the medium, language, and you are dealing with the human holy Trinity. Jim Zola’s poetry is very much possessed by these three entities that are manifestations of one and the same thing, though separate.
However, Zola’s poetry is very much a personal creation. It wears its linguistic costumes in the guise of a working man, not unaware of warehouses and fields and dentist offices. He writes from the outer trappings of an ordinary life that most of us will recognize. There is insight, both rational and irrational. His words are inspired not only in the content, but in the textures and motions that propel and metamorphosize experience through the so common but so miraculous instrument that is language.
Here is a short poem that illustrates Jim Zola’s work in miniature. The title is “Empirical”:
Sometimes a word is like the sound
A wind chime makes in the neighbor’s yard
Where all you ever hear is barking,
A dog you never see but imagine—
A mutt with one black eye, one brown
And a dusty snout snuffing
At the bottom edge of the privacy fence
That keeps him in. What evidence
Is needed? One plus one plus one.
Look through the wooden slat, whisper
Loving sounds. Somewhere there is an empire
And a miracle and a hound
Head back, baying at the truth.
The first thing to note is the brilliant onomatopoeia of the word “empirical.” Do you not hear the tinkling of a wind chime? The sound is inherently there, but never or rarely heard in other contexts. It is the poet’s brilliant leap that gives us this miracle of perception. Next, we hear and see the barking dog. Zola uses images from American everyday life. His descriptions are so sensuous. It is not only visual but auditory as well: “dusty snout snuffing.” I think it is also tactile. From there we go on to the conceptual, the idea of a “privacy fence.” The fence may be a physical object, but it is an arbitrary claim of land, space, an ownership of a small empire in the greater world, the greater empires of humankind. The poet speaks “loving sounds” to calm the dog, give him a disarming affection, but the dog is protecting the private turf of his master. What is the truth? Possession? Human and animal territory, though so real, is so arbitrary, subject to incursion, conquering, fencing in. The dog instinctually knows there is another world outside his daily space, his speck of illusory freedom. And what is the miracle? The sound of wind chimes, the suggestion that a word “empirical” can create. There is a bit of irrationality to this concept. Can we define beyond the cause and effect the triggering of memories, images, fantasy that the sound of a wind chime produces, carries through the air, not restricted by a privacy fence? Is the dog subconsciously trying to protect and withhold the magic it senses originating in its territory? Is there a fear that someone, something will steal it? Perhaps the last interpretation is my own speculation, but the ending isn’t so much a summing up as a prose argument would be, but an opening out, an irrational hint at the truth, or, at least, a rational statement that is pregnant with our own imaginative suggestions to listen to like we do the music of a wind chime, or the word “empirical”, which embodies that sense perception, vibration, friction. The words of the poem are like the tubes or rods of the chime.
Zola’s poetry is made up of recognizable and exacting descriptions of what all of us sense, though we rarely pay attention to it, and imaginative leaps from logical plateaus to singular areas of experience that reflect back on the previous perceptions, but in irrational, though suggestive ways. The mix varies from poem to poem. Here is a poem that illustrates this:
“I Have Walked Long in this Life without Absence”
I believe the shadow
of a bird crossing my window
warbler jackdaw shrike
the floor of this room
nesting in cigarette packs
box seats on power lines
in my next to last life I want to return
as a common coot
running on top of cool water
I have walked long in this
that always ends
with the hymn of our flesh
Passing note: look at the musical language—everything from warbler-darkening to coot-cool to water-walked. It is the little things that give poetry its elevation above prose.
A book is the sum of its parts. Though it may be true of a book of essays and an episodic novel, and definitely a book of short stories, each poem must be self-sustaining and complete in itself. If it isn’t, it is just a stanza out of context or a failure. Zola’s poems are little glimpses, ruminations, sorrows and joys from his larger life. You get a sense of his daily realities, but they are shadows. The poems, though, are illuminations; like fireflies they carry their own light. He writes about his father, his mother, his daughter, son. We get inexpressible feelings, conflicted emotions at times. It is like we are walking in a hall and looking into rooms, taking in the physical and the emotional, and filtering them. The poet addresses the occupant of each room, and that is the poem.
I think Zola’s poems grow on the reader as they are read and reread. Certain aspects dazzle, but there is an aftertaste which haunts. I recommend this poet. The reader won’t understand everything, but the sensitive reader will be touched by the genuine life in each imaginative poem.
© Jim Zola and Dan Cuddy
Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina. He works as a children’s librarian at a public library. His photo art can be found all over the internet. His poetry book publications include: One Hundred Bones of Weather (Blue Pitcher Press); What Glorious Possibilities (Aldrich Press); Monday After the End of the World (Kelsay Books); Erasing Cabeza de Vaca (forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press); It’s the Unremarkable That Will Last (forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press).
Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. Most recently he has had poems published in the End of 83, Broadkill Review, Welter, the Twisted Vine Literary Journal, the Pangolin Review and forthcoming in Gargoyle.