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When the Only Light Is Fire Paperback – November 15, 2011
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About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
I used to be a fiction editor at a litmag, and for a brief period of time, I helped read the poetry slushpile. There were poems that leapt out at me and burned themselves into my mind; they were the ones I could read repeatedly deriving new meaning and further passions each time. Those were the chosen ones.
So it is with each of the poems in Jones's When the Only Light Is Fire.
The first poem, "Kudzu," blew me away with its closing lines (and I apologize in advance, because I didn't get the spacing/indentation correct with Amazon feedback formatting):
"All I've ever wanted
was to kiss crevices, pry them open,
and flourish within dew-slick
How you mistake
And if I ever strangled sparrows,
it was only because I dreamed
of better songs."
Jones, like so many poets and artists, approaches the usual corners of darkness: heartbreak, loneliness, isolation, violence, abuse, and yearning. And like so many poets and artists of color, he approaches a history that is void of power, as he does in "Jasper, 1998: III," a poem that echoes the rhythms of a "Chain gang, work song, back road,/ my body."
And yet--he lights these corners up. Not in a cheerful colorful light that excuses and hides these injustices--but a clear and unblinking and merciless spotlight.
This is one of my favorite poetry collections. I know that poetry can be spotty out there--it can be maudlin or manipulative, but this is not that kind of poetry.
And watch out--this new voice is going to get bigger. Catch him at the beginning. And read him. Read this.
Until now. Now, after reading WHEN THE ONLY LIGHT IS FIRE.
Saeed Jones's collection of poetry is unlike anything I've ever read before (and, most likely, unlike anything I will read again). This is poetry about longing and lust, about anger and joy, about searching and loss, about raw Southern days and hot Southern nights. Jones's word choice is precise and powerful, the images he evokes unforgettable. These poems took my breath away.
Jones is a talent as inexorable and irresistible as the fires described in his poetry. You don't want to miss this. I promise.
As a poet, I have an astute eye for poems that bow beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary in a way substantial and distinct enough to leave a mark. Each line here is an art. Each poem stands alone, but the collection itself likewise lends each poem a rare depth and breadth. This is stunning work, important not only for queer poets of color, but for humanity.
(I read a review on Lambda Literary Foundation's site that cued me to the book...)
"Saeed Jones walks on the periphery of the South, those places on the outskirts of town, in bars after midnight, and on dangerous backroads where most people keep their heads down or look the other way...." How well I understood that description and recall many such places, such dangers!
I wanted to read the author's impressions of those places and compare them to my own, my collection "CORE" is forthcoming. Sometimes they were agonizingly similar based on being from a minority population and with a sexuality publicly reviled yet privately practiced so that abuse can be common of those who are not allowed to have voices.
Visceral, vivid, yet often using a minimum of words, this was a difficult collection for me to read, as often the images created through the poet's words triggered my own memories of darkness, abuse, aloneness and pain. I found it outstanding, courageous and to be admired for the ability to share personal emotions and experiences.