Book Review — Jackley

Hello Hello Hello by Mark Jackley

(Blurb, 2013, ISBN 978-1-4675-5701-6, $14.95)

by Scott Holstad

If you’re a fan of formal, traditional poetry, don’t read Mark Jackley’s new book, Hello Hello Hello. However, if you enjoy unpretentious poetry grounded in reality with a hint of humor thrown in for good measure (as well as some sentimentality), it’s a very good book to read.

A former Ray’s Road Review contributor, Jackley has been around for awhile. He’s published several poetry collections over the years, including Every Green Word (Finishing Line Press) and There Will Be Silence While You Wait (Plain View Press). His work has also appeared in such journals as Evergreen Review and Tampa Review. He’s paid his dues and it shows.

The book starts out a little carefully with a poem entitled “In Warm Waters.” It seems somewhat average compared to what you find on the next page: “Dog Days.” In this poem, there’s been a summer storm called “Jeb Wayne Lee” or “Jeb Lee Wayne,” or even “Jeb Lee Storm” that has knocked out the power. Jackley invites the reader to “Let us be dogs, lie around like dogs, pant, drool and hump like mutts,/ for the dog days are here and honey, there is nothing else to do.” The storm has melted the coffee ice cream and “the beer is getting warm” (egads!). The “TV is out and the stereo too.” Jackley ends this immensely readable poem by writing “I can almost remember the darkness,/ what roamed its edge and howled.”

The very next poem reveals the author’s take on “The Last Days of My Life,” writing that “Maybe they will resemble the last days of high school,” when you suddenly click with and become friends with someone you’ve known for a long time, but have never bothered to get to know. Or perhaps it’s the girl who sits next to you in Spanish class who becomes beautiful seemingly overnight. The poem ends by saying,

The days are long, the nights are sweet

and if you lived by the sea

you sat on the sea wall, which held back

everything except

your laughter and all the delicious,

insane, intoxicating

talk of holding on,

of staying there forever.

Powerful imagery, that. This book continues thusly, mixing longer confessional-style poems with shorter image conscious poems to create a nice combination of poems that are sad, funny, sweet, laugh inducing, etc. All good stuff indeed. That is not to say every poem in the book is a winner. “At The Hospice” seems a little contrived and “Erratum” somewhat unnecessary to the collection, but on the whole, this is a strong collection of poetic works Jackley has produced. He focuses a great deal on his relationships and doesn’t hold back, inviting us into his world of good and bad memories and instances in time. “Vow” is such a poem, where “Kim” is invited to “take me to be/ your lawfully wedded guy,” including the baggage of failed marriages, a pre-teen daughter, his punk rock and more, mixing this with her “Alabama Christian/ faith and tidy spice rack,” but before anyone can become overly emotional about this poem, he ends it with “oh honey, if you will,/ I will do the dishes.” Laughter abounds. His poetry is self-effacing at times but can submit to some borderline sentimental realism, as in “Wives”:

It has taken me only three

to figure it out. Each morning,

the cat cries and cries

at the basement door.

I open it and she

stands there, not moving

or saying help me but

hello hello hello.

However, the object of the poem is unclear. Is it a cat or a wife? We don’t know and an otherwise strong little poem is undercut by this moment of non-clarity.

Jackley moves around the book with topics ranging from his wedding night to laughing with old friends about their “outlaw past” and on to a very interesting take on the Vietnam War. Perhaps the best poem is “Eat A Peach,” where the writer is sitting in his work cubicle and sees a peach “Rebecca” has left on his desk, eliciting memories of listening to (and seeing in concert) the Allman Brothers while he currently listens to piano music. He describes a dream of Captain Lou Albano, the former wrestler who is driving a big rig in the dream. All of this, and the tune he is listening to entitled “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” leaves him thinking it is “more akin to the paradise of/ a juicy, runny peach exploding blissfully until/ I reach the pointed pit, a little bit like shrapnel.”  I love those last lines. They remind me of one of my favorite poets, the now sadly discredited Bill Shields whose explosive lines would burst from his verse with vengeance as he described his alleged experiences in the Vietnam War. That’s meant to be a compliment, Mark.

This is not a big book, although it’s a bit larger than your average poetry collection at 80 pages. It may not be the best book of poetry you’ve ever read, but it’s a damn good collection of real and interesting poems and while slightly uneven at times (and whose work isn’t uneven?), it is well worth the $15 investment. Buy this book, read it, and treasure it – it’s that good. You can find it on Amazon and elsewhere.

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About Scott Holstad

Scott C. Holstad is poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review.