Happy 2017, friends! Thanks for being patient during this break. I’m back this week in great company with Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. It’s not everyday that I read a collection as thrilling as this one. Every poem (no exaggeration) in Prelude to Bruise is straight fire. Jones’ writing is brutally honest, so much so that it hurt to read this collection at points. The emotion here is strong and loud, and the poems are disturbing, oftentimes taking readers out of their comfort zones and into the psych of a young black queer boy. Through Boy, issues of sexuality, identity, and race are questioned.
One of the first poems that blew me away in Prelude to Bruise is “Boy at Edge of Woods.” In just 11 lines, it’s one of many poems that demonstrates Jones’ handle on craft and image. By the end of “Boy at Edge of Woods” I realized I’d forgotten to breathe, which happens a lot while reading this collection: ” . . . I relearn my legs, mud – / stained knees, and walk back / to my burning house” (lines 9-11). This poem introduces readers to the sexually charged nature of Prelude to Bruise, as well as its focus on the body, which serves as a motif throughout the book.
Familial issues are also focused on in Prelude to Bruise. The character of Father and the tension between Boy and Father appear multiple times. In the poem “Boy in a Whalebone Corset” we find Father burning Boys’ “sissy” clothes: “Corset still on, / nothing else, I’m at the window; / he’s in the field, gasoline jug” (lines 20-22). The poems that discuss Father hold nothing back, and the speaker does not cloak the abuse and aggression.
One of the last poems in the collection is written as a prose poem and is one of the most emotionally charged poems I’ve ever read. Time stopped while I was reading “History According to Boy.” I didn’t realize I was crying until I reached the end of it. Over the course of 12 pages, the speaker walks us through Boys’ adolescence. It takes place at school where Boy is bullied, a chatroom where Boy attempts to explore his sexuality, a gay dance club where Boy meets Stranger, and at home where Boy confronts Father. One of the last lines of the poem is “Boy has a name.” This is a great penultimate poem for Prelude to Bruise.
I think Prelude to Bruise is a testament to the power of poetry and storytelling. These poems break the silence in a way that is loud and brutal. Jones’ writing is haunting, and this collection is not something you will quickly forget.
Buy Prelude to Bruise here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Coffee House Press: “Coffee House Press is an internationally renowned independent book publisher and arts nonprofit based in Minneapolis, MN; through their literary publications and Books in Action program, CHP acts as a catalyst and connector—between authors and readers, ideas and resources, creativity and community, inspiration and action.”
(Photo of Prelude to Bruise courtesy of Coffee House Press)