Pleiades Press. 2019. 80 pages.
Reviewed by Megan J. Arlett
In selecting Ashley M. Jones’ book for the 2018 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize in Poetry, Marcus Wicker said, “dark // thing explores the operating costs incurred when blackness—black hair, black bottom, black diction and excellence—are perceived, but not uniquely seen. […] It is imperative that you read these poems, teach these poems, breathe deep this gift of a book.” Jones’ second book of poetry takes no breaks. Formed without sections, the book is tightly woven. With little room to pause, the reader must take these poems as a continual argument as to the “operating costs” Wicker identifies. The black experience in America cannot take a break and so neither does the book.
The vast majority of poems in dark//thing are in response to, or in conversation with, other texts. Jones takes on the voice of Harriet Tubman, writes in response to poems by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Maurice Manning, Amiri Baraka, and even nods at Jordan Peele’s film Get Out. Jones forms poems from slurs, titles them after songs, constructs poems in the form of a bar graph of lynchings by state and race. What manifests from this is a constellation of voices that demonstrate how the black experience in America transcends mediums, historical eras, and bodies. Jones creates an endless restatement of what it is to be black in Ameri