Mark Jackley was a contributor to Issue 4 of Moledro Magazine. In this blog post, I've reviewed his book 'On The Edge of a Very Small Town'. This review has been previously published at Voices of Youth, a UNICEF-based platform.
In one of the first poems (‘Undertaker’) in his poetry collection ‘On the Edge of a Very Small Town’, Mark Jackley vividly explores the mysteries surrounding death: ‘Once you’re there, death / just isn’t the same, he thinks. / He carefully sews her mouth / to keep the secret in.’ After all, the air of enigma surrounding death continues to baffle and pique the minds of people today. And later on, it made me wonder: rather than deconstructing what we can’t understand, is it better to accept that obscurity can be more appealing than the truth? Should we be grateful that her mouth has been sewn… and that she won’t be able to tell us, the living, what we’re all steadily approaching?
Crisp yet powerful, Mark Jackley’s poems have a tendency to meander into our souls and make us question the minutiae of life. I could never linger on a single emotion while absorbing his words—for the gamut of sensations and sentiments he explores is vast. With honest language and striking imagery, Jackley’s poems prove that simplicity and succinctness can be the greatest virtues of any poem. In ‘On the Edge of a Very Small Town’, a collection of concise and jarring poems, gravity morphs to depth, which seamlessly turns into something akin to joy and lightheartedness.
There is poignancy in the mix, as well. ‘The Camera’ is a touching poem about poverty, and the effects it can have on peoples’ spirits: ‘The poor are mostly joyless / in old pictures— / too tired or too proud / to fake it when somebody / points to another / machine and says, “Smile.”’ We’re enmeshed in a world of media and artifice; and sure enough, it can be rare to see raw displays of emotion. But that’s what we see when we see pictures of the poor: unhappiness that was born from life struggles, happiness that is not motivated by a desire to look beautiful or seductive. It’s hard to tell if a camera can truly capture the essence of a moment; but Jackley’s poem showed me that it depends on the people who are being photographed, as opposed to the dexterity of the photographer.
Jackley’s poems embrace universal themes, and are hence relatable to anyone who picks up his book and dives in. And yet, he explores these themes with a unique twist; for instance, take his poem ‘Happiness’, which uses words like ‘dark’, ‘bound with tape’, and ‘hostage’, but still manages to paint an exceedingly powerful image of the emotion we all seek:
‘Sometimes it rises quietly
like water in the basement.
It may soften something
you’ve lugged around for years,
stored in the dark,
bound with tape, whose mouth
you sealed, a thing you were
unable to unwilling
to let go of, so
it held you hostage too.’
Regardless of who we are or where we grew up, we will still be able to appreciate the brilliant tones of Jackley’s poetry. From using Chinese takeout boxes (in ‘To my next love’) to depict love to describing the sun as setting fire to the heads of flowers (in ‘Reading in the car in a parking lot at dawn’), Jackley encourages us to view mundane world events in creative, divergent ways. ‘On the Edge of a Very Small Town’ is a wonderful mélange of conflicting and harmonious emotions, a miscellany of simple words that have the ability to evoke the most complex feelings.