I’ve been reading Zion: Poems by TJ Jarrett this week after picking it up at Parnassus Books in Nashville while there with my friend Julia.
I selected this one from the pile as soon as I noticed Theodore Bilbo (1877-1947) was mentioned in several poems. I was intrigued. Bilbo was the notoriously-racist Mississippi governor and U.S. Senator (Truly, there is nothing to admire about the man).
In these other-worldly poems, he is often a character with regret in his heart who is reflecting back on his life. He is re-imagined by the author, and it is a powerful device. In the poem, “Theodore Bilbo Mistakes Me for the Angel of Death,” she writes “You must have known the words were poisoned…Even when what was once your face/bloomed ruin, you kept on saying them.”
I like to think a Theodore Bilbo of today would be open to to change his ways of thinking, and I admire these poems for letting us to consider that.
The grandmother is also an important voice in the collection, and appears in the first short poem saying that the body is “more waiting room than cage.”
Many poems also have the self-awareness quality that writers often have. “The Peonies at the Bodega” describes a scene between lovers as if it were a perfect love poem: “Were this a poem, and I were just arranging the sound/we would be standing in the rain and not snow.”
I recommend Zion and hope to read more from TJ Jarrett soon.