Monday, July 17, 2017

Chief Jay Strongbow is Real: Timothy Gager Hungers for Truth

Taking its title and prevailing metaphor from a faux-native wrestler who was “arguably the biggest racist gimmick in history,” Timothy Gager’s new collection, Chief Jay Strongbow is Real, sets out to debunk our tidy, comfortable myths and cut through romantic and cultural illusions. The book is set in eight “Acts” that take on loaded topics like politics, addiction and sobriety, love and its demise, family, and poetry itself. 

The collection’s introduction and opening poems indict the actions of those currently in power (“sign the contracts / then set the tap water on fire”), but he’s equally allergic to simplistic or idealistic solutions from the other side:

The most radical revolutions
Become conservative
The day after the revolution
(“Me Thinks we Protest”)

Gager’s poems are disruptive and clever, full of his characteristic wordplay: “What doesn’t kill you makes you thinner,” “as a fly crows,” and, most light-heartedly:

You know you slay me
so what?

I have dragon breath
(“Loose Flowers”)

Gager is also bold and funny in his skewering of consumer culture (seventies style):

Take Sominex tonight and sleep
after Coke and a smile
is how you spell relief
(“I Feel Good About Amerika”)

The collection punctures the balloon of romance and easy intimacy (“this / dating is either gaga or nothing”) but still allows for the hope of deep connection “like a worn t-shirt / is a perfect imperfection.” Silly posturing is off the table here, but love remains a comfort.

In a world of counterfeits, compromise, disappointment and disgust (which extends even to the self: “today at the beach, my patience / vanished like waves taking turns”), the clearest story to tell may be of the adolescent hollowness that cannot be assuaged. Hunger, at least, is true, and memory doesn’t soften it.

At age sixteen, a hundred and forty pounds
An empty pit, my ribs stuck out like a step ladder
My toothpick arms with bulbous hinges
I think it impossible to fill my stomach
(“When I Think of my Childhood”)

With its distrust of smug certainties and empty nostalgia, Chief Jay Strongbow is Real might help us sharpen our own gaze, see more clearly, and act simply and boldly: “Cook a meal. / Plant a garden.” If there’s a message here, it is to look for truth and to persist. “By no means stop.”

--Laura Cherry

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