There is a lot of poetry in this world. To my taste, some is good, some is fair, and some is inspiring. I like to wander the bookshelves of my library or book store and pick out poetry books to try, kind of like the sample at the ice cream store, tasting a flavor, and if I enjoy what I sample, going back for more.
Well, I was lucky to have sample the flavor of Ifeanyi Menkiti’s The Jubilation of Falling Bodies. This chapbook, published in 1978 in a limited edition by The Pomegranate Press, captures Menkiti’s lush images and generous prose in a collection of thirty-five poems in three sections: “Persons and Places,” “Strictly Academic,” and “Weird Companions.”
In “Persons and Places,” Menkiti takes us on a journey to places near and far, from Harvard Square to Agra, India. In each place, we see the story of the person who inhabited it. “To a Certain Pretty Girl” relates the story of a flirtatious encounter over lunch (which leads to humiliation): “…and here / is a million kisses / from the guy who sat / at the table next to yours / who spilled coffee / on his brand new shoes / while watching you…” Another poem, “In Agawam”, even deals with the subject of Massachusetts’ affection for itself (“Massachusetts so much / in love with itself / the longest street / in the state / is named Massachusetts…”).
“Strictly Academic” deals with the questions that need answers. In “Oedipus”, Menkiti notes “my father slept / with my mother: / when I want to do / what my father did / my father gets / all worked up / & says I’m weird.” In “Holy Confusion”, Menkiti deals with the question of whether coffee is good for you by going to the real source. In “Earth Receive Her”, the reader is treated to an understanding of the process after death.
“Weird Companions” provides six sublime portraits of the absurd, while revealing some amount of universal truth. In “The Matador” we find “She dodges the bull in the ring, / The bull follows her here and there. / She and the bull are ready to collide. / The matador is wearing a skirt.”
The poems through the chapbook are accompanied by woodcut prints which add a stark and beautiful contrast to the words themselves. The book is an inspired collection of moving poetry, and one I would recommend to anyone interested in the language of images.