So anyway, I once had this great writing professor who had a profound influence on my development as a writer, thinker and observer. He drilled literary devices that weren’t yet in my vocabulary into my brain, he opened my mind to different ways to shape a story, and he taught me a lot about the craft of writing in general. But he didn’t just teach me things; he was also known to entertain with stories and jokes and rants and, occasionally, he would pull back his academic curtain and reveal his own personal literary ambitions. On multiple occasions, he told me about the off-the-wall ideas he had for future projects. Among the most unique, though, was a book composed entirely of poem introductions, without the poems themselves. So Anyway… by Zeke Jarvis is that idea fully realized.
A book of just poem introductions is a ballsy proposition. In a way, it’s like offering appetizers without entrées. But to just look at it that way is short sighted. It misses the beauty and the power of omission. So Anyway… tests the theory that sometimes the poem introductions are more worthwhile than the poems themselves. Think of it more like if pre-meal drinks and appetizers were so intoxicating and filling that the entrees didn’t even seem necessary. Consider how horror movies are far more affecting when they don’t show the monster lurking in the darkness, how mysteries aren’t as interesting once they’re solved, how the anticipation of What’s Gonna Happen Next in a cliff-hanger is often more memorable than What Happens Next. So Anyway… is an interesting experiment in storytelling, but it’s also a clever perversion of anticipation.
Similar to the way that Louie tells the story that exists between the jokes, So Anyway… delves into the story that exists behind the text. That is, if there even is a text, but that’s beside the point. Although these introductions are based on hyper-personal experiences and ideas, Jarvis is consistently able to make them feel universal in a way that is very satisfying. Each introduction begins with the inspiration. Be it an anecdote, a moment, or an observation, all poetry – and all art, for that matter – is inspired by something. Jarvis often starts by sizing up the thing or the instance that struck him in a particular way and then attempts to zero in on what provoked his specific reactions to them. But as he processes and explains how he got from point A to point B, he tends to meander around a bit in a way that gradually reveals different pieces of his personality.
The introductions are sequenced roughly in chronological order, so it functions as something of an unconventional autobiography. The first section of the book is called “Formative Years and Frustrations,” which runs through the phrases, the stories and the people that left an impression on the author in his childhood and adolescence. It provides a window into both the setting of his youth and the experiences and influences that molded his unique sense of humor and worldview. The next section deals with Jarvis’ foray into the wonky world of math. As a double major in English and math, he professes to have once thought it was a good idea to write a book of math poems, a decision he later humorously regretted. But be that as it may, that wild idea produced some of his most creative conceits. The following section is accurately titled “College, or What I Remember of It,” and it features thoughts and adventures from Jarvis’ experiences in academia. Similar to those of his high school days, his stories from college reveals Jarvis’ knack for recognizing the significance or strangeness of a small moment, as well as his ability to generate comedy out of his insecurities. The final section, “Life Lessons and Other Stuff,” in my opinion, is the most balanced between humor and profundity. It contains insightful riffs about the nonsensical nature of McDonaldland characters, meditations on the perspective of a witty drunk and some very thoughtful observations on the unexpected incidents that underline how priorities change as you grow older.
Together the four sections paint a vivid picture of the man’s life through his various idiosyncrasies, insights and insecurities. To me, the insecurities are particularly interesting because they’re relatable on a very human level, but they’re also extremely familiar to writers and artists of all forms. He understatedly captures the inner-battle that takes place when an artist knows that he/she has an exciting idea, but doesn’t know if he/she can quite execute it, and then, once it’s finished there’s the seemingly unanswerable question of whether or not it was executed successfully. It’s reminiscent of award winning profile writer Tom Junod’s four stages of writing: “I’m shit. I’m a genius. I’m shit. I survived.” Regardless of how vulnerable you feel standing at the mic, the fact that you finished the product is significant. Poem introductions show that everything that happens before the finished product is significant in a way, too. Zeke Jarvis’ collection shows that a poem introduction can be a revelatory, affecting form of art on its own.
But anyway… the underappreciated power of introductions; the way that both mundane and absurd occurrences can feel surprisingly weighty; the way that something relatively unremarkable can be humorous; a professor’s continued impact on a former student. These are some of the ideas that I was thinking about when I wrote this poem. Thank you for coming out tonight, and thank you for listening. I hope you like it.
Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He’s currently writes about television for Voice of TV, and previously covered the Carolina Panthers for Football.com during the 2013 season, as well as college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. Additionally, he’s written about sports, pop culture and politics for Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Voices,The College Fix, and The Wine and Cheese Crowd, among other places. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time in the near future.