The thing that makes a poem good, says poet Louise Glück, is that it is alive. Solarium, Jordan Zandi’s first collection of poems due out this February through Sarabande Books, is wonderfully alive; lively, even. The poems squirm, inflated with an enthusiastic buoyancy and brightness that makes them a pleasure to read. Their joy, like a dog’s joy, bounces along moment by crisp, exciting moment, where each joy is “as instant / as a stone that leaves the hand” (43). The first section of the collection whaps us with energy and genuine play. In his title poem, for example, Zandi savors both language – the way a word feels as it rolls off the tongue – and memory, in this case, the memory of the taste of a fruit infused with the essence of summer:
Remember summers, Jordan?
Eating quinces, spitting the seeds?
And how you never ate quinces again
when they laughed when you called them quinces?
And now there are no more quinces?
I do remember quinces (9).
The second section of the collection pauses for a moment, prodding at something more mellow than nostalgia, but no less heady: “Though the years have flaked from me / lichen still molds to stone” (18). Time is passing for me, Zandi seems to acknowledge, but I’m just one guy and the world keeps moving, so I’ll just enjoy it and be who I am.
Scattered throughout the collection are a series of poems titled: “On My Path Life,” “On My Painting Life,” “On My Pony Life,” and so on. In “On My Plane Life,” Zandi writes, or rather, reports, “I was in a plane—I felt the all-around bounce of it.” But it is the final line of this brief piece that I would like to draw attention to: “I thought of love and planes, and love on planes—then slept, coasting among white clouds, and mind was my atmosphere.” Mind as atmosphere. Yes, on one hand Zandi is the happy passenger in the cabin pressures and cross currents of his mind. A good example of this is his poem “A Lesson in Botany” that blends sounds and texture with a slippery poignancy, to become a lesson in language, a lesson in being alive and able-bodied: “Wind is a long thing, too thin to see. / Like precision or loneliness” (46). And earlier in the same piece, this gorgeous passage:
Of being a sea. Of things that move
but stay to the earth. To be young,
to be old. Which we express
like this: he has grown out
to encompass that post;
and he will grow into his (45).
Mind is Zandi’s atmosphere, yes, but so are the forests, islands and everything else that surrounds him!
For Zandi, poems sometimes seem to sally forth fully formed from his brain (“mind as atmosphere”), while other times his brain captures the visual and emotional texture/timbre of his surroundings (“the all-around bounce of it”). The work oscillates between a concrete realm with, among other things, “dead things gumming the sidewalk” (7) and a dreamlike space, evoking another time, olden, carnival-esque where Zandi rides his horse and peers into the pines. Either way, either world is crisp. Henri Cole who selected Zandi’s book for the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize, writes in the collection’s preface that Zandi seems to search for (and find!) “the great opium of simply being content with oneself – with a heart that receives and watches (if a heart watches), while resisting the systems that hurt us – and remaining awake to experience.”
Zandi’s poems aren’t precious nor are they spiritual but they play, and they play with the superior skill of one who fully embraces the present, and who happily honors all that is around him. This is not to say that Zandi’s poems do not contain regret, sorrow, places where “pain becomes the whole environment of the night,” or where a throat is “gorged on goneforever;” of course not (34, 27). But it is the way that Zandi is not crippled by these thoughts, that he can hold them up, describe them with the same ease and skill as he describes a “blade’s whetted petting” that makes his work so valuable, and so unique (20). He lives in the world that is ours, familiar, the only one we know; yet he discovers and discovers it.