Shannon Jonas offers up to us a sacrifice of the slaughtered ruins of his own ancient innocence. The poems in The Rake stopped dripping with blood a long time ago and have been honed by the elements to sing with the sharpness of a wind cave made of bones. Unwilling to give up on the lyric, Romanticism, or the ancestors of poetry, The Rake is a continual encounter with the past, with innumerable pasts, like Borges’ futures, a flux of labyrinths transposed upon the ever-present moment of the visionary watching and seeking “to be something alone & outside of what surrounds us.” Stripped of artifice, unapologetically willing to turn to the archaic to realize the present, almost unnoticeably skillful in turns of line and word play, these poems step beyond the static-y echo chambers of the technology age in which “words I learned unmade me” to commune with the remnants of nature in order to be remade as we once were, innocent as the un-mythologized origins of humanity, or, as Jonas puts it, “I can explain it this way, un-beautifully.”
Shannon Tate Jonas writes, “How do you make a song?/ Cover the table with a white sheet/ Growl into your hands/ Write the words ‘profane’ & ‘swan’ on the mirror.” Animated by a haunted phenomenology, these poems are hardscrabble koans, deft lyric implosions, minimal and aching delineations of the materiality and inescapability of memory. Leaves appear in the shape of a hog. The tilled field is a sparrow. Darkness is essential. Among the psychic impositions and possibilities created by his sharply rendered landscapes and domestic interiors, Jonas achieves on every page a desperate beauty that few contemporary American poets attempt.
For Shannon Tate Jonas, sleep is the entrance for “No News from the stars,” which is good news. Places abound-Michigan, Virginia, Carolina, Ohio, and elsewhere the landscape revealing itself as home to sounds that shape in the ear and become our own vernacular. Here is clarity, richness, a spellbound solitude at once monastic and sensuous in the constant act of realization and discovery. We journey with him toward a place we find for the first time. A voice says: Take me with you.
In his stunning first collection Battle Sleep, Shannon Jonas’ poems cast such deep spells that their abiding voices go under as well, as if poetry were also beneath the surfaces, an interior face of change. And the spells break, as they must, mid-lyric, again and again, for wounds, for losses and betrayals and exiles so willingly heard out that distance becomes a welcome medium. Frank Stanford summoned not from literary consensus but from a living consciousness. The dead and the alive, not drowning. And forgivenss as boundary crosser unto perpetuity. There is searing consolation here, the sort that returns trust to poetry.