Prelude to Bruise*, the first full-length collection by Saeed Jones, is unflinching and intimate, fierce and achingly vulnerable. It’s a remarkable collection, perhaps the most highly anticipated book of poems to appear this year, and it is not to be missed.
These poems in Prelude to Bruise are firmly grounded in the body, and in one body in particular. The collection traces, with some digressions, the life of “Boy,” who is young, black, queer, and growing up in the South. These poems are often autobiographical, both political and personal in their evocation of the lived experience they shape and are shaped by. They are mesmerizing and dramatic.
Mr. Jones’s skill and versatility are impressive. Here you’ll find poems of varying forms, meters, and lengths. In some poems, like “Prelude to Bruise,” which lends its title to the collection, Mr. Jones explores the emotive possibilities of just a few key words (black, back, body, burning, broken); in others, metaphors and imagery take center stage (one of my favorites lines is “The dress is an oil slick”).
Prelude to Bruise is divided into six sections, and while the autobiographically inclined poems make up a large portion of the collection, poems in which Mr. Jones enters other lives (and deaths) appear throughout. Here, in poems like “Daedalus, after Icarus,” “Jasper 1998,” and “Lower Ninth,” we find a poetic voice attuned to detail and perspective, alive with empathy.
Take, for example, “Isaac, after Mount Moriah,” which you can read here thanks to the fine people at Linebreak. The calm image of a boy so deeply asleep that rain pools “in the dips of his collarbone” is shattered when we realize, in the the next line, that the speaker is his father, Abraham, who was ready to kill Isaac on Mount Moriah. Seeing his son’s fear, even in sleep, Abraham wonders, “What kind of father does he make me this boy / I find tangled in the hair of willows, curled fetal / in the grove?” It both is and is not the right question to ask; we’re ask to hold in our minds both the image of the father giving his son a blanket without disturbing him and the image of the vulnerable boy (“curled fetal”) that father raised his hand against. It’s a complicated, engaging poem, gracefully rendered.
Mr. Jones writes beautifully and powerfully about specific experiences tied to universal concerns –life, death, danger, desire, family. Prelude to Bruise is highly recommended.