Crushing It by Jennifer L. Knox
Jennifer L. Knox’s latest poetry collection, Crushing It, is hilarious and heartbreaking. In a volatile poetic moment, where much of what we view as community seems to be looking inward, Knox is looking out at the world around its speaker, a world of irony and idiocrasy. Crushing It offers a way to explore the world through a million back-alley turns. Reading this collection feels like running through a big city, dodging people and cars, or darting down new, interesting paths at each turn.
Crushing It showcases Knox’s talent for the surprise turn from the very start. Encapsulating this gift, the first poem, “The Morning I Met My New Family,” begins with this description of a landscape: "A forest of conifers stands upright on the floor / of Fallen Leaf Lake in California’s Tahoe Basin, / deposited by millenniums of landslides."
Only a few lines later, these unique features of the lake turn the poem on its head when they collide with Merle Haggard and a cocaine-filled yacht party:
on the yacht was passed out when Merle Haggard
heard a roar, looked up from the pile of cocaine and saw
a whale-sized Christmas tree erupt from the water, felt its wake’s glittery spray, smelled its piney sap as it sailed over the deck, hovered a sec, spun, then splatted
back to earth unanchored.
In the poem “Friend of the Devil,” a character asks the speaker, “Where do you come up with this stuff?” You, too, may ask this question throughout the collection. Knox achieves an enviable balance between craft, image, and story in this collection. Additionally, her mastery of the earned volta rapidly shifts our expectations of the poems as they spread out across the page.
Crushing It has something for everyone: the book flatters the jaded, the naïve, and the in-between in all of us. Split in two parts, Mines and Ours, Knox plays with the concept of universal experiences. She blurs the line between what is mine and what is ours, who experienced what, and what even is reality anyway?
This blurring is no more apparent than in the poems “My Mother Visits Me in Prison” and “My Mother Visits Me in Prison, Again.” Separated by almost half the book, these poems buzz us into the relationship between an aging mother and daughter. They offer an astute observation of memory, reality, and death. “My Mother Visits Me in Prison” starts with the mother’s exclamation, “I was in prison once!” while they play a game of cards. Knox shows the family next to them slowly losing a loved one, as the mother drifts in and out of reality. This scene concludes when the mother, surrounded by grief, looks out the window and says, “That orange bird sings such a pretty song!” This poem’s lighthearted tone brings to light the pain of losing someone while they are still there. In “My Mother Visits Me in Prison, Again,” the speaker’s mother fully breaks with reality. The world the poem creates warps each line, slowly changing from what one might first believe to be a real experience to utter dream logic. This poem captures the slow violence of an ever-shifting reality, and the reader soon realizes that the prison Knox observes is one of the mind.
Tanner Barnes is an MFA Poet at Florida State University. His poetry has previously been published in the Rappahannock Review, the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Chestnut Review, among others.