A Review of Dormant Volcano by Ken Jones (Weasel Press Nov. 2015)
Houston Poet Ken Jones dedicates his newest volume of poetry to “all the poets who publish in the pages of the “little” journals.” This is an apt dedication because all of the pieces in this volume were original published in “little” journals, though some such as the journals of the Austin and Valley International Poetry Festivals may argue that they have since grown up. The book is divided into four sections: Philosophy, Poetry, Politics and People. He opens the four sections with the words of Lame Deer, Lakota Sioux Medicine Man declaring
I think white people are so afraid of the world they created that they don’t want to see, feel, smell or hear it.
Jones gives us a remarkable volume in Dormant Volcano. There are no punches pulled in this work. Jones cuts into the meat and muscle of modern American life commenting, cajoling, chastising and even pleading; asking in the end “can we change?” The negative answer is apparent throughout the book.
The first section, Philosophy, dwells on what might be best described as the white man’s angst at a world where emotion and passion have been cauterized and dried like the husk of an empty caldera. Jones laments this tepid state of existence in the title poem “Dormant Volcano” declaring that “Not even ash endures Inside this empty hole.” In this Jones presents the life less lived. The uncomfortable intercourse with the waters of existence where the swimmers find that their pool is as shallow as they know themselves to be. Walking through various philosophical fallacies and end points Jones concludes this section the ultimate answer in “What a Can Can Be”
I see it and say
“It is there
It is all there
It is all there is.”
In his Poetry section Jones dwells on his personal relationship with the art of writing poetry and the anguish of the poet who publishes in the “little journals.” In “On Finishing Jersey Rain” ´Jones compares the poet who has made it to the “big” journals with the lesser known
When he writes, the Global Village listens.
When you spew, a drunk in a corner hisses.
In “Life Cycle of an Unknown Poet” Jones begins with his bold intentions at rebellion
Though middle aged and hardly a sage
I always offer comment.
Scrawling black thoughts on a yellow page
I often erupt in dissent.
But in the end reality corrects his aspirations
Bawling dark regret at brawling opponents
I forever live my defeat.
With the section devoted to Politics Jones attacks what he sees as the hypocrisy of American values. In “Hands Across America” Jones strikes hard at this hypocrisy and the fallacious logic of those “wishin’” injustice did not have a true face
All just singin’ and wishin’
That economic inequities
Were simply simple stories
And the homeless should dissolve
In the face of their phony resolve
Jones goes on to blast Trent Lott, the insurance companies denying coverage after Katrina, politicians and hypocritical blindness to reality. In “Border Crossing” Jones humanizes the journey of the undocumented trying to cross into the United States
Like Moses we’ll float
Across the big river
As Jesus was baptized
Then became our savior
Jones ends that piece with drowning immigrants struggling for freedom with U.S. immigration officers on one side and human traffickers on the other side of the Rio Grande laughing at their plight. In “The Windy City” racism is the focus describing the anger of a white mob chastising a doomed African American child caught in the mud and waves because he “contaminated” their beach. Jones’ attacks on racism include the treatment of Native Americans, manifest destiny, the desolation of American inner city neighborhoods. All of these are sharp tongued, biting incriminations that leave little room for reply.
The final section of the book entitled People contains little tales of individuals representing the human condition. The actress who fails every day and drowns her sorrows in food. The stubbornness of Vince Lombardi refusing to believe his chronic constipation had any meaning to his life until it became the harbinger of the end of his life. Jones comments that Lombardi, admired as the great American winner, represents
Uptight buzz cut righteousness!
In “Peace of my Childhood” Jones presents the narration of an adult who suffered through horrible abuse only to find freedom in the art of his poetry
So today I make my own peace
These hungry memories I release
Catharsis flows so easily
On this page I’m finally free
The poetry of Ken Jones is biting, hard, sardonic. Humor is presented in the blackest of terms following the direst of events. Yet, it is perhaps the catharsis Jones speaks of in “Peace” that summarizes his point of view. Only by accepting the harshness of the past can we cleanse ourselves from it. Yet in the end Jones still wonders in the final poem of this excellent collection, entitled “Hasta La Vista, Baby" whether anything can ever change:
One wonders: can Homo Americanus change?
Learn to hate only the hatred of the intolerant?
Defy through Life celebration, not Death