Crunked by Jack Henry (poetry, 113 pages, Epic Rites Press)
When first engaged, Jack Henry’s work seems like it will be fairly predictable. Reading the initial pages of Crunked, you quickly realize what you are in for. Poems about addiction – to methamphetamine, to be precise – and about the creative process itself. A little destruction mixed with a little creation. Another season in Hell.
But, flip a bit further in, and you will also dig a little deeper, and quickly start to appreciate that Henry doesn’t treat this familiar subject matter to a straight-up approach.
Poems about drug abuse and drug experimentation are standard fare in literature. But Henry isn’t trying to write a visionary Rimbaudesque tract nor a Burroughsian treatise. He’s simply pounding out the facets of the addict’s life (the shamelessness, the squalor, the selling of your self to feed your habit) in slivers of language that dig into the muck of the matter, like shards that scrape the dirt out from hidden corners. Take, for example, “dope on a table” where Henry simply notes: “she had dope on the table/what else could I need?” “this is how it works” describes in mechanical yet alarmingly stark do-it-yourself detail how to make money to feed your habit. The approach is quite gripping in its honesty.
Henry seems to find little real escape in drugs. In the title poem (“crunked” meaning “high”) he admits that “speed doesn’t do/everything/i hoped it would”. It is, rather, in the poetic process that he finds euphoria – and where the reader picks up his or her own buzz off the poet’s work. In “finding”, Henry starts off describing how he “found freedom/at the center/of a rolled up/twenty-dollar bill” but ends the poem on a roll of language that suggests words are where the real power lies:
thoughts in proper order
i sit at the computer
listen to a clock tick
watch wind bend branches
planes fly over, land at airports
motorcycles rattle windows
cars bump down asphalt rivers
This pattern repeats throughout the collection: the addict getting the fix to satisfy a basic need; the poet finding a higher release through rhythm and image. Henry’s style may echo the addict’s life in the short, clipped lines that drive forward, like an addict hungry for his next fix, but his poetic ear is finely tuned to alliteration, consonance and other more subtle details. And it makes for a potent mix.
Get a bit Crunked at http://www.epicrites.org