Review, The Annotated Murder of One
by Jared Pearce
Fans of elaborate, fractal works like Infinite Jest, House of Leaves, and Pale Fire will find their curiosity piqued by the structure of Jared Pearce’s latest poetry collection, The Annotated Murder of One (Audabe Publishing, September 2018). Taking as its source text the foundational Counting Crows’ song “Murder of One” (in fact, it’s the song whereby the phrase “Counting Crows” is explained), the collection consists of commentaries, allusions, riffs, extrapolations, and continuations of the song’s lyrics. Pearce’s poetry here is a successful combination of the “remixed” or “found” poetry genre with his own material’s romantic, closely observed musings.
Perhaps that description makes no sense? For example, the song’s first line reads “Blue Morning, Blue Morning,” but in Pearce’s Table of Contents it reads “Blue Morning Blue Morning 64),” with page 64 bearing the poem “Blue Morning, Blue Morning,” a poem completely original to Pearce except for the intertextual link. ~20% of the song’s weight-bearing words have a superscript and poem associated and cross-referenced with them, as though Pearce were a mathematician, a poet of mathematics as it were, demonstrating the infinite possibilities of a finite, and possibly random, data set. Which is not to say that the poems herein are experiments void of humanity, or staid exercises in scholasticism. At the core, ever elusive and fluid but still...around the core of the collection exists the relationship between the poet figure and the “you,” taken from the song, a woman, sometimes figured as a bird (most often), or tree, or moon, as the tantalizing object of yearning, yet a woman bent on self-destruction, as in the song’s chorus, from which Pearce derives many poems:
All your life is such a shame
All your love is just a dream
Open up your eyes
You can see the flames
Of your wasted life
You should be ashamed
You don’t want to waste your life
This notion of change is central to the collection. Like Rilke’s famous dictum “Du musst dein Leben andern,” Pearce challenges both the reader and poem’s characters to change, to better themselves and their relationships, instead of “killing our love,” as the collection ends in the poem “You Should Be,” the poet figure still reprimanding the “you” for not changing properly. In “Sky as You Stood There,” the poet claims there are only two things in the universe: God and “you,” and then declaims upon your liquid-like ability to change:
You, water that will undergo
No change foreseen, will rush
On uncalled-for-years, expand against all
Laws, flow or freeze when you
Feel like it.
Change is so central to the collection’s meaning that two poems bear the title “Change.” The second, “Change 84,” commences “Two things the pastor knows: faith is real/and people can be paid to change,” while “Change 25” terminates with a question that echoes throughout Pearce’s work, “Will we ever get where we want?” Seeming to speak to our post-Truth era in the U.S., “Doesn’t Have to Mean” operates as a lamentation from a teacher of philosophy, whose students no longer want to know logic, or the way to think clearly and consistently, but only facts, facts at random and strategically chosen, “Facts with which we can bludgeon others.” But, he concedes,
I explain facts
Change when we
Need them to fit
Our new sizes
The Annotated Murder of One proposes that the eternal, the numinous, the transcendental, exists within everything, something as quotidian as a tree, a bird, or a pop song. Like the Counting Crows’ “Murder of One,’ however, the collection, in the end, weaves together into a thematic fabric, concerning love, failure, risk, memory, and the necessity for us, no matter the fears or betrayals, to change.
The Annotated Murder of One
By Jared Pearce
Publication Date: September 7, 2018
Length: 120 pages
Published by Aubade Publishing
About the Author: James McAdams has published fiction and poetry in Gravel (April 2017), decomP, Superstition Review, Amazon/Day One, Literary Orphans, and B.O.A.A.T. Journal, among others, while presently shopping a collection of short stories and working on a novel. One of his works was nominated for a Pushcart 2019 by The Matador Review. Currently, he is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of South Florida. His work can be viewed at jamesmcadams.org.