Dominion, the remarkable poem which opens Ted Jonathan’s new collection Run (NYQ Books), serves as a primer of the themes that will continue to resonate throughout the book. While isolated in a basement apartment in New York City, Jonathan hangs two prints on the wall: El Greco’s turbulent Toledo and Magritte’s luminous The Dominion of Light, to cope with his subterranean existence. After moving to a cliffside New Jersey skyscraper, he is able to take in the breadth of the Manhattan skyline, but the looming Bronx conjures memories of his abusive father and his own unacted-upon fantasies of patricide. This dichotomy of light and dark binds the collection throughout: the rage and danger of his Bronx upbringing is juxtaposed with the class loyalty and strength it brings him. A street corner high noon confrontation between two neighborhood crazies on one side. The jury of proletarian peers giving a petty criminal a break since:
behind the great
wall of too big to fail…”
on the other.
Similarly, the escape from reality afforded by hard drugs is contrasted by the retrospective shame of the wasted years. The disturbing calm in facing an aggressive neighbor shown by his father (“my sole inescapable enemy”) is opposed by the pride and support shown the young “Tadeuszu” by his doomed mother. Jonathan does some of his best writing in expressing the void left in his life by her loss through the simple memories that haunt him. In recalling a childhood shopping adventure with her, he says:
“…what I liked most of all
was being there with her.”
Her encouragement of his studies helps the young Ted discover that “Libraries are holy”, and Jonathan the poet references the reading and writing of poetry as something he couldn’t help but do again and again. It proves to be a truer romance than the unsatisfying or unconsummated relationships he recounts with braggadocio and indifference.
Run is a book of lean and accessible verse. The kind of book that can be enjoyed by people who think they don’t like poetry. Populated with characters with names like Ambrus Bohn, Ivar Kertes, and a drug dealer named Paul Bunyan. Laced with laugh out loud lines like Jonathan’s observation:
“……………………………..the vanity plate
wasn’t the most American of all things.
Had to be the laugh track or the idling
NYQ Books has done a great job producing a beautiful book by a poet of the people, and I suggest that you lay hands on a copy without delay.
Ted Jonathan – Run (NYQ Books, 2016)