Reviewed by Shannon Vare Christine
Interstellar Theme Park: New and Selected Writing
by Jack Skelley
June 2022, Paperback, 204 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1609644116
The titular opening poem in Jack Skelley’s Interstellar Theme Park: New and Selected Writing, invites the reader to an avant-garde setting where the speaker proclaims prayer-like a listing of “I want” items to consider. This is a place where “Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd” could “levitate the Tomorrowland Terrace” or where “Fruity Pebbles vaccination bars, with stalactites nippling jelly babies” can both simultaneously coexist, alongside other punk aesthetic and pop culture artifacts. Skelley creates worlds in his poems that are immediately recognizable, while also somehow suspended in nostalgically futuristic places. Whether a poem is set in Disneyland, a cemetery, or a “Demon-Sized Planet,” the natural or reimagined vision of each setting looms large “colored bubbles making worlds multiply.”
Pop culture allusions and technicolored dreamscapes poke holes in idyllic notions and perceptions of reality. Resplendently capitalistic scenes of excess where a third person subject is “gorged on / orgasms distilled, fetishes fulfilled” and a “fed-up archangel-crat…Cashed in his F.U. chips and went freelance,” where “babies rapped their ABCs in Disney beds, / The Nike swoosh was tongued above each head.” The poems in this work tip one into the other, like a neverending dream that makes sense only while asleep. These poems allow the reader to meander into the lines, and get lost, to soak in the philosophical and existential within, to analyze and question society, as well as humanity’s intentions. “—today’s / terrorist is tomorrow’s freedom fighter, / the march of one becomes the history of the other.” We’re forced to contend with the fact that time and again people’s actions overlap and contradict, as we’re doomed to repeat and relive a shared storyline. Profits over people, as “Big industry perpetuates a plane / of self-interest, and regulates / for its benefit, not ours.” Skelley reminds us that we are all connected, as he constantly draws us back into the human element of emotions that connects us all.
Skelley experiments with form and structure throughout this work. At times he offers humorous riffs on more traditional subjects and topics, such as “Acker’s Law of Archetypes,” or product placement poems in which the speaker searches for “the Crazy Glue of commitment” and asks, “But why just Windex myself away and admire the lights.” There are list poems filled with rhetorical questions, and prose poems laced with religious themes, images, allusions, and pop culture archetypes. How Skelley is able to write lines that simultaneously describe, illuminate, juxtapose, and contradict is anyone’s guess. There is an intimacy, a voyeuristic quality to this work overall, as we turn each page, as if we’ve happened upon these poems, found them stashed away in a jean jacket pocket or borrowed them from a friend, like that treasured indie rock vinyl record. The lines are meant to be savored and shared. This is a collection that slows down time, forces the reader to stop and linger awhile. The love poems feel more than, the anti-prayers seem deliciously sacrilegious, and the repeated opening words and phrases are meditative, but all devices serve to emphasize “the collective amnesia” of “public memories.” These poems leave us breathless and panting, like the most exhilarating carnival ride, or perhaps even just like daily life itself.
About the reviewer: Shannon Vare Christine lives and teaches in Bucks County, PA. Her poems have been featured in various anthologies and publications. She served on the Editorial Board for The Community of Writers publication, Written from Here Anthology. Her poem, “Somnus Consented,” was published in Volume VIII of The Closed Eye Open Journal. Look for “How to Repot a (Rootbound) Plant,” forthcoming in The Wild Roof Journal. Follow her adventures and give her Poetic Pause newsletter a read at:www.shannonvarechristine.com and on Instagram @smvarewrites.