Review of Living Things

Collin wrote a review of my chapbook over at The Pedestal. (Thanks!) Click to the quote to read the whole review:

Jensen could have easily bogged Living Things down with melancholy and self-pity, and while you might shed a few tears, it won’t be in the places you might expect. There’s a sharp clarity and acceptance of death in these poems, yet both the narrator and the dead lover live and breathe on these black and white pages. There’s a cinematic quality to the scenes and details. It’s a short film waiting to be made, with Jensen’s words as dialog or voice-over.

Work.

On Tuesday I took three students from ASU to a Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School’s Celebration of Writing event. The CoW is a three-day annual series of appearances and readings by local writers (I think local writers) at this very small, very arts-positive school. The students I took are all in their last semester of the MFA program and are all wonderful writers and people I enjoy very much: playwright Carlos Chavarria, fiction writer Caitlin Horrocks, and poet Diana Park. You will continue to hear their names.

We did a brief Q&A with the high school creative writing class, who asked us questions like, “Is it important to listen to feedback from other writers, or is it okay to stick with your first draft?” Or, what starts a poem for us. We all come to writing from very different experiences and backgrounds, so our discussion was interesting.

The reading was great. Each of the ASU students read from their work and they were all fastastic. I read some selections from Living Things and was sort of embarrassed to get choked up a few times. This is the problem with the book. It holds too much. A poet friend of mine who also wrote about a grief experience (I don’t know if he’d want me to reveal his identity here, so I’m holding it back for now), told me he was eager to stop reading his grief poems because it was like experiencing the loss all over again. I’m starting to understand this.

The poem that always gets me? “The Cat.” It has this really “naked” moment in it where the speaker, after describing how he finds a cat meowing on his parked car’s engine, comes to realize that there was nothing he could have done. And the tone of the poem, for me, becomes deeply personal and revealing. It was a risk I was taking in these poems to step out of the lyric moment and into a blank utterance.

I tell you if it weren’t for dramatic pauses in that poem, I wouldn’t make it. I take those three seconds, collect myself, and finish the poem.

Chapbooks: Scarcity Influences Demand

So, a while back I posted via myspace that I was almost out of chapbooks.

Now, I am out.

I have some more coming soon, but it’s going to take a few weeks because—yes—more have to be printed!

Thanks to everyone who already bought one and for those of you who’ve shared your responses with me. It means a lot.

On a sidenote, are you my friend on myspace? Because I want you to be.

Chapbook Update

William Vandergrift had this to say about Living Things:

“A couple days ago, I received Charlie’s chapbook Living Things. (signed too!) WOW! What a powerful collection of poems this one is! Jensen explores a lover’s suicide effectively using taut prose that creates a distance between him and his readers so that the poems do not come near being melodramatic as they might have been had they been written by lesser writer. With a watchful eye and a keen ear, Jensen objectively explores and conveys the process of dealing with death and being the one left behind who must go on living. Wake Ecstasy is my particular favorite in this collection. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work hopefully in the near future!”

Ron, Eduardo, Montgomery, Josh, and Jules, your chapbooks are coming soon!

Praise for Living Things

Thank you to Justin Evans for his kind words:

“As for the new year, I started early with my goal to buy a book of poetry per month. For December, I traded Charlie Jensen for his chapbook, Living Things. A marvelous read, a great tandem read with Donald Hall’s poetry (The Painted Bed) about his wife, Jane, which I happened to buy with my annual giftcard from my in-laws. Chariie certainly has his own voice, though, and is able to, in his spare language, express grief with the best of them. In not naming the ‘you’ addressed in his book, or shifting to the third person, Charlie forces the reader to question more. There are no certainties, no safe harbor for the reader. Thank you, Charlie, for offering the trade. I loved the book. This from Hall, which I think your poems are equal to (I hope you don’t mind the comparison):

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.

Like I said earlier. Your book, along with Hall’s was a double shot of grief. I really enjoy the contrast of your spare words.”


And thanks also to Anne Haines:

“I started out wanting to describe these poems as elegiac, but I think of elegies as being in some way about the person being mourned, and in this chapbook, the deceased beloved is present only as body — we don’t get a strong sense of what he was like in life. Instead, the experience of mourning itself takes center stage and serves almost as a character, a personage. There is the necessity of dealing with the body of the deceased, the necessity of funeral and ritual, the necessity of coping with the day-to-day post-funeral mundanities (e.g. bills that continue to arrive), and there is the way mourning rings out into the world and, for a time, changes everything the mourner sees. These poems aren’t about the dead, or even really about the memory of the dead: they’re about the living. I’d read many of these poems before, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to read them in the context of this small collection.”