by Emily Barton
Chronic, Chronos, Kairos. by Jacob Russell. Brooklyn, Chicago: Damask Press, 2012. 6 pages. $12.
The first thing that struck me about Philadelphia poet Jacob Russell’s chapbook, Chronic, Chronos, Kairos (Damask Press, 2012), was its personal aesthetic. Only five poems in length, this handmade letterpress chapbook features one poem per page, with line drawings by Becket Flannery on the pages opposite. This minimal and elegant design provides balance to the subjects that Russell tackles, and it invites the reader to interact with the text — I found myself running my fingers over the drawings and then the words as I read.
This chapbook is the first book in a longer project entitled Poem to the End of My Days. In an interview with Damask Press in September 2011, Russell describes the project as a way to organize his life’s work — all of his poems are written as a part of one long poem, beginning with Chronic, Chronos, Kairos.
It’s an ambitious project — it holds the writer accountable for each stage of the process, without a clear conclusion or end. This chapbook acknowledges that, and grapples with its own temporality. Each poem, or rondo, as Russell would have us think of them, begins with a date, and though the dates are organized chronologically, Russell asks the reader not to adhere to this organization as a reading guide. “…the date of origin of any of these pieces is of no matter / in determining the sequential order” he begins the second poem, entitled “December, 2010, As all time past is present.”
The poem goes on to strip away the significance paid to the cycle of years used to measure time by erasing a calendar, “the numbers assigned to these being entirely beside the / point & without meaning.” This poem is the crux of Russell’s project, because it both deconstructs it and outlines its purpose by calling attention to the way humans seek significance in the world — through adherence to ritual, religion, love, and even death — and asking the reader to think of them all as the same entity, while considering them as parts of a whole.
The poems tackle time as a subject in a number of ways — they address the acts of celebration and mourning and the concepts of love and death as they move through the space of two months. Russell’s characters include Santa, winter, death, Chronos, Urizon, which, though they are mentioned separately, all seem to function as one shifting identity, searching for the balance between sequential time and opportune time.
What this identity ultimately provides these poems is a thread that allows this balance. Santa is found smoking a cigarette and watching the rain, winter lurks with sparrows for eyes, the “I” confronts Chronos and death. These images and circumstances provide a bridge of realities that Russell is seeking, but also distort any sense of clarity that either of these realities might provide. It is in this that the poems are most successful — inhabiting both realities. Russell is able to call the reader’s attention to the impossibility of inhabiting one singular reality without at least indulging in the other.
Jacob Russell was born in Chicago a long time ago. He arrived in Philly on a Vespa motor scooter in 1964 and never found the exit. He’s been wandering the streets of Philly every since searching for Found Things. Spirit Stick says: “Found Things may be given shelter, but lose all their powers if possessed.” Spirit Stick says: “Found Things can never be lost–were you to discard all Things you claim to own–that they be Found & granted their freedom, we might yet save ourselves from self-destruction.” For links to Jacob’s published writing, check out his blog, Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog.
Emily Barton is a graduate of the University of Michigan and an MFA candidate at New York University.