JonArno Lawson. Enjoy it While it Hurts. Hamilton: Wolsak & Wynn, 2013.
~Reviewed by Marilyn Irwin
JonArno Lawson’s newest and third book of poetry, Enjoy it While it Hurts, opens with words that function as epigraph, foreshadow, and guide: “An edifying miscellany of quarrelsome quips, holiday oddities, curious thoughts and apocalyptic melancholia.” Take heed.
Lawson expertly employs various tongue twirls, rhythms, and rhyme schemes nostalgic of Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, Aesop, and Buddha, all of which expertly gather and sustain unwavering momentum. The allegorical vignette-type, haiku-esque, anthropomorphic poems in this collection range from one-liners to long poems to short fiction sequences—pieces that together capture the gamut of human emotion and frequently reveal very earnest commentary deeply rooted in the tragic nature of the human condition.
Those who pilfer filberts when they fish
Their fingers round the edges of my dish
May filch more filberts anytime they wish (I don’t like them) (“Quarrelsome Quips”);
The most effective traps are the ones you don’t realize you’re in—this one, for instance
The first labour of humanity was to sew undergarments in paradise (“The Tailors and the Butcher, Apocalyptic Melancholia”);
Those who always do their very best
May still at times wake up gravely depressed,
shedding bitter tears while getting dressed (“Quarrelsome Quips”);
To avoid suspicion, rob your own house first (“Quarrelsome Quips”).
Throughout, the reader is invariably coerced into his world as both witness and participant. Take a poem like “The Snow,” for instance:
The Snow, like humanity,
Was most beautiful
It had fallen.
Not to be discounted, the space and/or context is, more often than not, crucial to, and just as vital as, the poetry itself. It takes great skill to paint such a vivid picture with so few words, and Lawson maximizes impact masterfully and equally from both the words and the space on the page.
Lawson, as well as book designer Rachel Rosen and sundry “long-dead… designers of books, bookplates, stone carvers, ornamental ironworkers, leather crafters and ceramicists,” deserve much laud. The etches and sketches that illustrate and complement Lawson’s work are reminiscent of those of Shel Silverstein, John Lennon, and monastic scribes. Line drawings, such as dandelion parachutes taking flight and simple, little characters acting out key lines, are juxtaposed with elaborate title pages, as with the flowery filigree of “The Frog and His Foster Son.”
Enjoy it While it Hurts is a delight and a great introduction to Lawson’s talent and breadth of style. Not quite comedy and not quite tragedy but somewhere in between, this book reveals his unique relationship with life and all the people in it with our awesome, heart-breaking, perplexing ways. Oh, humanity.
Marilyn Irwin has been published by above/ground press, Arc Poetry Magazine, Bywords, In/Words, and New American Writing, among others.
She has three chapbooks: for when you pick daisies, flicker, and little nothings.
She is currently shaping her first full-length collection.
WITNESS (AND PARTICIPATE IN) ARC!