Jack Cooper's Across My Silence
Recently I suffered a concussion and was unable to work, write, or read for almost a month. Then one evening in July, after being cooped up in the house for too long, I went to the monthly Sunday afternoon open reading at Beyond Baroque, in Venice, CA, where Jack Cooper was one of the features. I had been overwhelmed from forcing my slower working and injured brain to process the open readers and other features’ wonderful work, but had turned my brain off about half way through and was considering going home early until Mr. Cooper took the podium and my brain and spirit (if you don’t like words like heart, spirit, soul, etc., you should probably stop reading now and anyway you cynics probably wouldn’t be into Jack Cooper’s poetry because your dried hearts are rotten raisins, but, then, that is your problem and I wish your well on that journey). Where was I? Right, my spirit was awakened from it’s concussed temporary slumber and then my addled brain remembered that if I could get my synapses lubricated enough to work, I was going to be writing this review of Cooper’s book, Across My Silence. It’s likely my mind is not quite intact but Cooper’s work is worth reading so here is my feeble attempt at doing it justice. Plus, his work was both the first I heard and read during my recovery and it’s what got me writing again even if what I began writing is not as hopeful in outlook as the beautiful poems in this book.
The poem that caught my attention at the reading and that is one of my favorites in this collection is “Some People,” which opens with:
There are some people
you know you’re going to like
even before you meet them
For me this poem is the perfect blend of mind, heart, and spirit and I do not mean those terms in a light, superficial way, because so many of Jack Cooper’s poems have amazing depth and clarity without being clichéd or syrupy or worse, “New Agey.” In this piece it is not just his choice of words and types of people he likes but also his use of an extra space between each line that adds extra dimension to the ideas the poem communicates.
Another aspect I admire in Cooper’s poems is his ability to tackle abstract and philosophical topics in a straightforward way that in most of the poems is neither preachy nor didactic like, in the life-affirming “Monday Morning:”
I want to be a witness
for the vireo and the lacewing
in their courtship of camellias,
and record the screams of jalapenos
turning green to red
in the clay pots.
His imagery communicates a feeling and sense of the "is-ness" and interconnectedness of people, animals, nature, and things, particularly in the last stanza of another of my favorite pieces in the book, “This Morning I Wake Up:”
A stray dog
passing by my window
turns into a legless shadow
then floats out of view
merging with the sounds of children
whose broken voices could be
the little birds you never see
hidden among the half-rendered leaves.
Cooper’s work also spans themes of loss and love as well as including poems about family members and in each piece the poet’s talent for observing what is the essentialness behind things is evident. In the poem, “In This Life,” which begins with an epigram by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and is about Cooper’s grandfather, he writes:
As a boy
I was surrounded by
the coiled muteness of men.
They wore their silence
like winter coats,
enduring the quick tongues of women
like turns in the weather...
He is deceptively not simple in his style and the passion in the language on the page draws the reader into the work. I find myself, even now, when I am trying to focus on just a handful of poems for this review, finding new things and discovering other poems I had only skimmed over while looking for what I had originally intended to write about this vast collection such as the many poems that are tributes to other poets like “Far Field: Remembering Roethke”:
I long for the far field,
for rocks that squirm,
water that laughs,
and wind that rounds up
her voices like lost children.
I find Across My Silence is a book I can open to any random page and find something new, and that is what I have been doing every day since I started getting ready to write this review, and it is something I know I will do even after I no longer have to. There is just something about Cooper’s work that makes me keep re-visiting it and that is inspiring me to think about my own work in fresh ways. This work is deep, exquisitely beautiful, and more turquoise than beige. I can only end with another of my favorite quotes from the book from “A Morning of Nothing:”
A pencil can make
but an eraser
cannot make you forget.
Across My Silence, copyright 2007 Jack Cooper, audience artist group, http://www.worldaudience.org, ISBN 978-1-934209-37-0, 140pp., $15.99