Black Dog Songs
Lisa Jarnot
Flood Editions $13 (paper)

If there is something strangely devotional about Lisa Jarnot’s work, it is in the poetic particulars rather than in any overarching effect. The four segments that comprise Black Dog Songs include one simply entitled “They,” whose poems serve as an index of the things “they” love: “That they loved to go on unmistaken, that they loved / to not to be gratuitous or cry, that they loved the / fortitude of yaks, that suddenly they loved the whiskey / and the sunlight and the key.” The sweeping refrain crafts a quiet insistence that, after so many iterations, seems almost a form of rhetoric: poetry that seeks to put forth and persuade. Though rooted in the quotidian, these poems are peppered with both natural and fantastic images that wryly challenge the high seriousness of the poetic enterprise: “The chicken wing factory is lit up in flames / and the flames are the wings of the little hot chickens.” But for all the attention paid to form and line, there is something missing in the transitions. Since Jarnot’s work relies heavily on cadence and repetition, we might look to music to explain what is puzzling about Black Dog Songs. The late 20th century saw the rise of the hit single and subsequent decline of the album as an art form as fewer musicians, it seemed, were capable of carefully assembling a collection. As a result, the last 20 years are rife with compilations that, while often entertaining and occasionally brilliant, never coalesce into something we might rightly call an album. While it offers the reader many engaging poems, Black Dog Songs fails to create a coherent montage. Jack Spicer once said that the book itself was a poetic form, a proposition that, had it been heeded, might have made an album out of this collection of hits.