These lines offer entrance into this book of poems about identity and place. Alessandrelli’s poems examine identity from multiple perspectives, while also examining the nature and pitfalls of self-awareness as a pursuit. The poems in This Last Time Will Be The First are imaginative, enigmatic and inviting.
The book is organized into four sections, each offering a unique voice and set of images while returning to the central question of identity. The first section, People Are Places Are Places Are People, invokes a series of poetic characters based on actual artists, writers and thinkers. Some of the poem titles take the form of “understanding” a person, as in the first poem, Understanding Marcel Duchamp, in which the speaker, presumably Duchamp, trashes a neighbor’s bicycle, only to discover that he has created something entirely new:
Throughout this section, Alessandrelli channels the creative impulses of Duchamp by taking historical figures and transforming them into “heretofore incalculable realities.” The non-fictional basis for these personages is a beginning point, but the poems always surprise and reinvent the poetic identity.
Another poem from this first section is entitled, “We Are Told, For Example, That Ralph Waldo Emerson, While He Disapproved of Laughter, Did Occasionally Allow Himself To Smile, But He Did So Only With His Eyes Closed.” −Julian Hawthorne. Yes, that’s all the title. It is a title worthy of analysis and savoring. The reader enters into a story, a lesson on Emerson, a humorous anecdote, a parable even. The poem’s speaker is vague. Does Hawthorne continue? Does Emerson retort? The poem’s speaker suggests that we:
The reader is invited to let go to a certain extent, to go inside oneself and see what bright revelations wait there.
All of the poems in this section, which comprise approximately half of the collection, begin by either trying to “understand” a person or with a quote by or about a person. This process of making poems raises questions of how identity is created and perpetuated in the first place. The poems intrigue and confuse just enough to invite the reader to participate in the shaping of their meanings.
The second section, Jeffrey Roberts’ Dreamcoats, explores the character of Jeffrey Roberts and while I will not claim that this persona is a poetic version of the author himself, the names are close enough to suggest as much, while many of the poems evokes a confessional feel. From Understanding Jeffrey Roberts:
So who is the impostor here? Regardless of the question of authenticity in identity, the character of Jeffrey Roberts comes alive through the vivid texture and language of these poems that both speak for and from him. Again, I’m not saying that Jeffrey Roberts IS Jeff Alessandrelli (turns out Robert is Alessandrelli’s middle name! See interview at Vouched Books). I’m just sayin’.
It Is Especially Dangerous To Be Conscious Of Oneself is the third section of the book and it begins with a brief excerpt from The Book of Lieh-tz’u, a classic Taoist text. Again, Alessandrelli’s titles are working overtime. Self-awareness is generally considered to be a good thing, but what if it isn’t? Alessandrelli writes, in his poem (Spring):
If identity is a created thing, what if we are off track? A classic Taoist axiom states: The way that can be spoken of, is not the true way. Perhaps the self that can be spoken of, is not the true self? In this section Alessandrelli continues to explore questions of identity, but now with a keen sense of imagery that eclipses self-awareness, even warns against it. From (Zombies):
The speaker says he does not believe that, but the sense is more of desperation not to believe what is suspected to be true. The poem warns against becoming a zombie, against being lost inside your own head. These poems suggest that we forget about ourselves and pay attention to the now, the other, the Here.
The last section of Alessanrelli’s book, You Can’t Discover The Lost Treasure If The Ship Didn’t Sink, is comprised of the single title poem, This Last Time Will Be The First. We’ve come full circle in a sense. I’d like to think we sunk ourselves so that we can find the lost treasure of identity. I like to read into titles though, and Alessandrelli gives such good title. The first lines of the poem read:
Alessandrelli offers his readers ways to render the world and its inhabitants imperfect so that they can see more clearly. Spend a few days with this book and you’ll see what I mean.
This Last Time Will Be The First is available from Burnside Review
Peter Vanderberg served in the US Navy from 1999 — 2003 and received a MFA in Poetry from CUNY Queens College. His work has appeared in CURA, Assisi and Newtown Literary among other journals and is featured in collaboration with his brother James’ paintings in their book, Weather-Eye (Ghostbird Press, 2011). He teaches at St. John’s Preparatory School and Hofstra University and lives on Long Island with his wife and three children.