Jeffrey Jullich is the author of Portrait of Colon Dash Parenthesis (2010) and Thine Instead Thank(2007). His poetry, criticism, and translations have appeared in numerous journals and magazines including American Letters & Commentary, Aufgabe, Boston Review, Chain, Ecopoetics, Fence, LUNGFULL!, New American Writing, Poetry, Rain Taxi, Shiny, Spoon River, and VeRT among many others.
What does a reader of poetry expect in a new book of verse today? I have to be honest, I’m generally a bit jaded when it comes to new poetry, as 9 out of 10 times I am disappointed by a lack of vitality, originality, and a truly open and inquisitive mind at work. Jeffrey Jullich’s Portrait of Colon Dash Parenthesis, however, is one of a handful I have read this year which truly surprised me at almost every point with its delightful wit, its clear and thought provoking statements, and its often ambiguous and paradoxical movement within each poem. The book simply does not have a dull moment, unless the act of thinking or the threat of paradox causes drowsiness in you. If so, be forewarned.
The book’s wit is clear from its title, with its reference to the now ubiquitous emoticon colon-dash-parenthesis. Spelling it out word by word instead of using the punctuation marks themselves adds an emotional ambiguity to the whole work from the very beginning: is it the closing parenthesis [🙂 ] or the opening parenthesis [😦 ]? These two possibilities seem to reference the iconic joyous and anguished masks of the theatre, a perfect Janus-like symbol for the dark humor and emotional turmoil to follow.
The title poem is a perfect example of the inventiveness and vitality of language in Jullich’s work. The visual and functional aspects of the colon, dash, and parenthesis enter the poem subtly: “breakfast is bifurcated into rations” and “a circle gradually a semicircle the revenge of Shamash / the sun god singed the edges of their square beards.” This portrait of sorts soon becomes a biting satire of the superficiality and alienation of the ‘cultured’ classes: “Like slicing into brie, the shovel breaks through thick topsoil / only for stinking goop to burble up,” lines which nicely references the first stanza of the poem with “the bacterium” who is “a perfect extraterrestrial landscape / a bubbling lake of Crisco.”
There is much sophistication behind each aspect of the book—frequent references to high culture, a very high diction that draws from many disciplines (you might want a dictionary nearby), and a masterful relation of form and content—that may have come off as pretentious, difficult and elitist had the language not been so accurate and essential to the poems’ effects. There is nothing careless here, no gestures that are not finely calculated.
For example, in “Crowning Touch” we are presented with a fragmented scene in a train station during an earthquake, be it metaphorical or literal. The ambiguity here again is central to the poem’s effect. The language of earthquakes and geology are placed beside narrative fragments of two lovers or family members being separated; “Epicenter myth as midpoint where end of one / signifying chain / cracks the egg” becomes a “curtain that’s rung down on // saying goodbye at the train station, lachrymose farewell until the continents unite.” By the end of the poem, the fragmented narrative becomes a cluster of fragmented words, possibly torn asunder by the earthquake, which succeed with its single concluding word (“stirps”: a line of descendants from a common ancestor) to complete the movement from geology to genealogy.
There is much more to be said of this astonishing book than I can put into this short review. If you want to read poetry that will fully engage you with wit, insight, and precise, inventive language, I highly recommend you get a copy of this book. It will not disappoint you.
Colon Dash Parenthesis by Jeffrey Jullich
Litmus Press (2010)
136 pages, $15.00
ERIC GODDARD-SCOVEL is the author of the chapbook /a light heart, its black thoughts/(Beard of Bees Press, 2009). Some of his experimental and concrete poetry has recently appeared on-line in /The Bleed/, /NOÖ/ /Weekly/ and /Far Out Further Out Out of Sight/. Much of his work with the computational poetry program Gnoetry 0.2 can be read at /Gnoetry Daily/ under the username eRoGK7. He blogs regularly about poetry, poetics, and other wonders of life at /what light already light/. He received an M.F.A. in poetry from Purdue University in 2009, and currently lives, writes and teaches in Lafayette, IN.