Kristin Kowalski Ferragut
Beneath One Roof: A Review of Model Home by Jay Hall Carpenter
Jay Hall Carpenter’s Model Home (2021) is an astounding collection of poems on a number of levels. Jay writes each poem with beautiful lyricism, rhythm, and often rhyme. There is no mistaking these poems for prose, yet so many pieces include mini-plot twists. I needed to read the collection multiple times because, having grown to anticipate thought-provoking, at times surprising final lines, I found myself racing through poems on first read to get to the end. Hard to resist, but doing so did not give the well-crafted structure and sound it’s due. I savored those upon re-reading.
The breadth of his subject matter, from the imagined life and times of Jesus to devastating family portraits to political commentary, keeps the reader unbalanced at every turn of the page in the deliciously unsettling way of a suspenseful novel — What might come next? Also, the depth and range of emotion these poems evoke make for a wild ride. Amused, heartened, wrecked — one covers much human distance and space with Jay’s images and messages and is left both troubled and grateful for the experience of being alive.
The human, gentle, fun-loving approach Jay takes to treatments of Jesus are entirely likable. Take “SLO-MO Jesus” (p. 20). The speaker references himself being pierced by nails and builds some other comparisons then ends with this final, fourth stanza:
I’m not saying I should
Be on the same stage with Jesus —
I’m not saying that.
But maybe I could open for him,
And maybe he would bring me out
For one number, the kind of song where one guy
Sings lively verses over long, slow back-up vocals,
And I could sing the slow part.
Model Home is a collection of fifty-three poems, including themes of violence in a childhood family home, marriage, and celebrations of raising a daughter. Although interspersed with a variety of topics, there is a feel of redemption through these sixty-one pages, as though the little boy who lived with wolves (p. 9) is saved through his love for his own daughter. The concern and care evidenced in the daughter poems is lovely. But the dichotomy between the speaker’s childhood and adult experiences give way to another theme — the old man trying to make sense of vastly opposing realities of one life.
I don’t consider the reflections in Model Home as literally Jay’s any more than I consider the wolves the boy lived with to be literal four-pawed animals, because 1) Jay is not old, although of course that’s relative. He’s many things I associate with youth — an artist, guitarist, singer-songwriter, and approaches all of that as vibrantly as anyone I know. And 2) I consider all art, including poetry, as fiction unless expressly told that it’s not, by the artist. That does not mean to say I think the poems are untrue. Within the imaginings, fictionalized experiences, and narrative of the voices speaking in the poems, there seems to me profound moments of truth in Jay’s work.
I read Jay’s previous collection Dark & Light (2015) and have heard him read a few times. A natural thespian with commanding presence, his readings are always a treat. He addresses historical social injustice periodically but rarely current socio-political events within his poems. With that said, I found “Fragments” (p. 39), a witness to violent injustice in our days, surprising and poignant. The speaker references COVID and police violence in powerful images ending with “A twisted syllogism for our time: / You are afraid they will kill you, / So you run, / So they kill you”
Model Home builds startling movement and holds interest from first through last poem. Here, I speak a bit to the last and first poems in this collection. Jay ends Model Home analogizing life to “The Equation” with nods to mathematical processes and tools and memories of the speaker’s father, concluding, “The point at the end, perhaps / Is devotion to the question / Is simply to show your work.” Work also features as an essential theme in the collection’s premier poem “Common Ground,” which I use as this post’s picture in lieu of a cover photo. In this poem the speaker uplifts the work of hands, honest labor, as tribute to our common humanity, a place from which to build understanding. Like most of Jay’s poems, “Common Ground” is beautiful and meaningful with depth and simplicity, which is no simple matter in poetry.
Link to Amazon Author’s Page including Jay’s poetry collections and anthologies in which he has been featured: https://www.amazon.com/Jay-Hall-Carpenter/e/B019NPX6IA/ref=aufs_dp_fta_dsk
Jay Hall Carpenter is an author and artist living in Maryland. His written works include plays, musicals, children’s books, and poetry. For several years he published The ACE Occasionally, a small literary humor magazine. "Dark and Light" is his first collection of poetry.
Carpenter’s career in the visual arts spans forty years and began at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where he designed 520 of the Cathedral’s sculptural embellishments, including gargoyles and angels. His public sculptures, monuments, smaller bronzes, and drawings can be found throughout the United States and at JayHallCarpenter.com.