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POET LORE

POET LORE

The Writer’s Center

The Art of Observation

Job Interview Jona Colson, from Said Through Glass

A review of Jona Colson’s debut poetry collection

Thank you for coming. Did you have a hard time finding our office? If I close my eyes, I can turn into a dove—star-crossed and searching in the sun.

By Emily Holland

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inner of the 2018 Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, Jona Colson’s Said Through Glass is a window through which we, as readers, peek into a world of grief, conversations, and daily investigations. His conversational poems weave together themes of loss and perception, taking the personal and making it public. Dialogue poems like the “Doctor to Patient” series and “Passport Control” take a surrealist approach to human interaction and give readers the sense of eavesdropping on an intimate discussion. Questions like “What are your plans?” and “How did you sleep?” are accompanied by answers that delve into the speakers’ psyche and subvert readers’ expectations. Often, the responses appear to avoid the questions altogether. The answer to “How long will you be here?” is not a length of time, but rather “It depends on what you consider love? It could be days, or something brief / said through glass . . .” These conversations can only exist in the world of Colson’s collection, where readers are always looking (or listening) in.

Said Through Glass is marked by poems like “From the Wrist and Reaches,” a peaceful reflection of a father. Colson’s speaker is full of grief, but also conveys an over-

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Why are you interested in this position? They say the man who invented the steam engine was inspired by watching a tea kettle.

whelming sense of calm, allowing readers to step into the narrative world of his poems. He writes “It is hard to remember him, / but I can see my father in his quiet August: / a young man, handsome and blue-eyed . . .” The tone is somber, but the measured reflection is tranquil. The poem “Honey” acts as a microscope with which we investigate the familiar. Colson’s descriptions turn an ordinary drop of honey into something “too thick to understand.” Later, in an imaginative poem “The Orange Speaks,” Colson’s speaker is an orange on a branch, ruminating on being plucked from the tree. In the third section of the book, Colson offers a poetic re-imagination of Diego Velázquez’ famous painting “Las Meninas,” bringing to life the various “characters” of the painting. Just as the painting itself has been subject to pages of “spectator” commentary from the likes of cultural theorists Michel Foucault and Anne Carson, readers are turned into spectators as they move through this section. Point of view is the crux of the painting, and as each poem introduces a new speaker, we see how these various perspectives are animated outside the world of the art: one The Writer’s Guide Summer 2019

Describe the best boss you’ve ever had. Patience and happiness—like discovering a new species. Best qualities? I’ve been told that I blush easily in the afternoon. Weaknesses? There is something pith-edged and bitter about infidelity.

child plays hopscotch outside to entertain the princess, another comforts her at night. Each poem is like a new painting unto itself— the language of watching, looking, and observation occupy the foreground of these vignettes. This “spectacle-as-observation,” to borrow a phrase from Foucault, is a defining factor of Colson’s collection. As he writes in “VI. Don Diego Velázquez,” the sixth poem in this series, “Every point in space is crucial, the relationships / between the subject and the sound . . .” Colson’s lively ekphrastic poems tie the entire collection together. Poem after poem, the reader is charged with the active role of looking—just as the title suggests these poems can be something “said through glass,” it also invokes the act of observing through glass, be it a window or a microscope or even the frame of a painting.

There are gaps in your resume. It wasn’t my intention to mislead you. Why are you planning to leave your current position? My mother taught me that meat is cooked when bone is removed easily from flesh. What do you do in your spare time? Kisses often fall and stain like pollen in a breeze. Tell me one thing about yourself that is not on your resume. I once looked into the heart of an artichoke—its core was thistle and stem. No temptation and so far from its purple blossom. What will you do if the position is not offered to you? A cold bud shivers inside—not a breath or bee in sight. If our roles were reversed, what questions would you ask? Could we start again? I know now what requires a light touch. May we contact your references? In late August, the heat no longer wins and September means new shoes. Any questions for me? These bones are not bones of an animal—there is no marrow, only tamed fruit in a glass bowl.

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Profile for The Writer's Center

The Writer's Guide - Summer 2019  

Featuring interviews with Kayla Rae Whitaker and Julie Langsdorf, an excerpt from Stephanie Allen’s new novel, a review of Jona Colson’s deb...

The Writer's Guide - Summer 2019  

Featuring interviews with Kayla Rae Whitaker and Julie Langsdorf, an excerpt from Stephanie Allen’s new novel, a review of Jona Colson’s deb...

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