Early on in GATES, author Jay Green declares: “I’m a Gen-Z poet, writing my stanzas in the year 2020.” It’s an important acknowledgement to make because the themes of modernity and it’s many benefits and pitfalls weave their way gracefully through the pages that follow. Whether writing a poem on his mobile in the middle of a combat zone in ‘War Poet’, capturing a striking Louisiana skyline with his camera phone in the beautifully lyrical ‘Sunset on the Bayou’, or unleashing a scathing dismantling of the unhealthy nature of social media in ‘The Photo of Nothing’, Green specializes in focusing his pen (or his touch screen), his wit and his wisdom on our 21st-century world.
That punch arguably hits hardest in ‘Youngblood’, a powerful nod to today’s disaffected youth, where Green laments: “My resume looks as if the ink ran frightened from the page. I need experience to gain entrance to a job that pays the rent, I need a low cost of living and a place that I can vent about America”, or in the succinct ‘Death and Scrolling (The Usual)’, a poem that devastates in less than fifty words.
Elsewhere, ‘Neighborhood’ is a timely study of the visible racial divide in Green’s home town of Monroe, Louisiana, an observation made all the more acute as the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps across America, and beyond. “The contrast of north and south side, the suburbs and the hood, old money and low money, the whites and the blacks,” Green writes, “… as much as I want to live an equal life, there will always exist this troublesome color gap, and all the preconceived notions that come with it.”
For all his immediacy, Green is just as skilled in conjuring beautifully drawn memories from his past, such as the tale of family tenderness he shares in ‘Blues and Barbecue’, and hazy, lyrical moments as in ‘What Is Love?’, where he writes: “If I’m broken I expect love to mend me, scrounging for its essence in the grip of someone else, before time can caress me like I need to be caressed.” There’s also moments of razor-sharp comic relief, as in ‘Penmanship’ and ‘Ode to Peanut Butter’.
Divided into two parts, GATES is a short but wide-ranging collection that is well laid out and edited. It can be completed in one sitting, but it’s also a book that rewards multiple visits. There exists within its pages a poem for every mood, and Green carves out his other subjects, the art of writing, military service, and his love for Louisiana, for example, with great skill.
GATES is Jay Green’s vibrant and eclectic debut poetry collection, but there’s no trace of rookie status here. This is an accomplished body of work that marches along with passion and rhythm, startles and delights with its rich collection of distinctive and powerful pieces, and marks Green out as a talent and a voice well worth following.
~Joseph Sharratt for Indie Reader