My Turn to Praise: Rick Marlatt on Jack Henry’s With the Patience of Monuments

With the Patience of Monuments, Jack Henry, NeoPoiesis Press, 2009

With the Patience of Monuments’ opening poem, “Em or F# on a Slide Trombone,” begins with the following lines:

a single note destroyed me,
as easily as Hitler destroyed Europe,
in those echoes
we sometimes refer to
when other metaphors feel to tame.

Clearly, Jack Henry pulls no punches. And his first full length collection is a brilliant fuse of personal reflection, confessional poetry, and social commentary. What binds the poems together is a no nonsense approach to language, detailed description of memorable images, and a strong devotion to discovery and truth.

Henry demonstrates an unflinching desire for clarity in his poems, regardless of their subject. “And We’ve Still Got a Ways to Go,” “That Screaming You Hear is Mine,” and “So Good it Sells Itself” showcase not merely an angry poet, but an artist well equipped to uncover the layers of mystery and equivocation that blanket a true understanding of ourselves as Americans citizens and human beings. In the long-sweeping, segmented piece “Eulogy for a Memory of an Idea that Never Really Existed,” Henry weaves together elements of society, art theory, spirituality, and faith to exhibit tremendous prosody from start to finish. Section one begins with a key self-examination,

this will never see light,
because light
is a theory
of existence and sustenance
of which we are not yet to realize

Following this opening, the poet undergoes an investigation of life, love, and faith; and the discoveries he makes along they way are often dark and profound. However, Henry ends the journey with well-earned hopefulness,

i will start again each day
i will awake and be ready
i will stretch and try
i will never care what another says about me
i will never look back

Henry turns to the past in memoir-driven poems that use specific places and times to trigger interpretations of the present. “Traveling Highway,” “Empty Houses,” and “Last Rites” all encapsulate the poet’s examination of self, aging, and nostalgia. In “Destroyed by Hope,” Henry uses his sensory description to breathe life into a desolate scene:

i watch the sun rise
through green leaves.
dogs bark, birds sing,
cars race along the road.
my mind races without pause,
neurons snap through fissures
that beg forgiveness when
my fingers caress the rope.

she offered promise,
desire fulfilled, yet the sentence
announced perpetual miscalculation-
i stood before Christ
and pushed in the blade.

unbound from my heart,
crows peck at remains-
i drift slow though
vapors of heat rising
from black asphalt-
her smile burns my flesh
as simple as chance
destroys my soul.

Sharp, memorable verbs such as “snap,” “caress,” and “burns” control the action while complimenting the stark content throughout the piece. Henry pays meticulous attention to line length, and the power he packs into that constricted space is emphasized by each line’s fluidity. As a result of this unique, artful style, the poem’s sense of despair is accessible.

While Jack Henry’s poetry is largely defined by its direct, straight-forward intensity, perhaps equally impressive is his ability to let off the accelerator and allow the beauty of his language to flow off the page. “Amber Waves of Grain,” “Cars Go By,” and “My Eyes Brilliant Blue” are wonderful expansions of visual description into personal revelation. In “December Begins Winter,” Henry engages the second person with a grace and sensibility that leads the reader into, through, and out of a heartfelt relationship;

i remember the sound of our voice
and the laughter of your eyes.

you stood at the end of an old
wooden pier and i suddenly realized,


your incantations of life melt
across snow and i watch

strange birds lift away
from treetops.

your world exists under canopies of gray
never to change or borrow from
rainbow palettes. Can it be that
the cloth we thought we both
found shape upon really exists

as a quilt from different beginnings?
something sewn tightly together by helpful hands?

i know the answer and you do as well,
but there on the old wooden pier
your feet stay in place, they do not move,
they do not surrender.

we both know where this ends. how the
last page will read. so many chapters
to go. i am a slow reader and you like
to skip ahead.

Henry begins with short, musical couplets, yet transitions to longer stanzas that inflate the weight and meaning of the poem as it flows to its conclusion. Fittingly, the final phrase slips ahead into the next line, accompanying the images with complimentary structure, and completing the symmetry of the poem overall.

Jack Henry’s poems are gritty. They pull no punches, and whether the poet is exploring the landscape of angst, recalling heartbreak, or looking ahead to hopeful days, his writing is unfailingly honest. What makes the voice in Henry’s poems so remarkable is the awareness of multiple external stimuli, and his ability to synthesize a plethora of sounds, voices, colors, and motion into uniform, lyrical movements. With The Patience of Monuments serves as a terrific first collection and an even greater promise for a strong body of work. Henry relentlessly pursues the truth through his art, for as he states in “Randomness is Beguiling,”

I have your picture
and intrigue and something new
to ponder.

Purchase With The Patience of Monuments