Jennifer L. Knox, Drunk by Noon, Bloof Books, 2007

Reviewed by JoAnna Novak

[Review Guidelines]

Jennifer L. Knox dissolves the prose poem. She neglects the pantoum and the rondel, but happily supplies almost sixty tenets. She’ll give you a monologue or a punchline, a peek into the dark side. She unleashes the loose sonnet straight away. "Yowl of the Obese Spaniel," the first poem in Drunk By Noon, is neither Petrarchan or Shakespearean in rhyme scheme, though the plight of this particular canine is lovingly considered with plenty of street-cred and, well, empathy. Knox’s speaker may be disguised as a waddling spaniel but do not be fooled: this speaker tells the truth, or, at least, declares the truth is out there, the truth can be told, the truth is nothing more than something to be revealed. The truth cannot be trusted, but the wiseacre speaker—sheesh, that’s another story.
     Knox challenges notions of who the speaker of a poem should be. Should this speaker say, for example, "eat the burrito / like you’re fucking it, Joel" (67)? Sure. The speaker slips into different affectations with ease. Sometimes rural, other times rhythmic, Knox sure-handedly sifts through colloquialisms and pop cultural reference points with such skill that I feel safe in saying that her speaker—while perhaps co-dependent, certainly racking up more rehab points than Robert Downey, Jr.—is a voice both savvy and saucy enough to defy gender and social standards all while maintaining eerily-precise diction.
     The title phrase, "drunk by noon," appears with a bit more context as an epigraph to the third and final section. It comes from a song by the Handsome Family, an alternative-duo bending the boundaries of art—are they musicians, painters, writers? Regardless, the phrase seems to be employed by Knox as an unspoken mantra for this speaker, so interested in identifying him/herself as a degenerate that the dark moments don’t seem quite so heavy. It does not seem insignificant that in, "So Sweet Our Teeth Ache," the speaker longs to be incapacitated. Knox plays with our slang and deconstructs our pop-cultural wastedness. "Incapacitated" may be understood to mean inebriated; it also, quite literally, suggests a violent death. No, she’s not the schoolmarm wagging a finger. She’s the bad girl, admittedly doing the bad thing, while tucking away with Proust at night. This is a speaker amorphous and aware, alternately longing for daiquiris and observing a chandelier-store: "up to its roof in tumbleweeds that sliced the sun- / light inside to beige lace" (22).
     Jennifer L. Knox has suggested that the ideal reader of her work is "a man, dressed like a woman, is over 40 but wider than a mile, 9 feet tall, all that, is a Camaro owner ... happily answers all telephone surveys" (24). These are large shoes to fill (and most likely Timberlands or vintage Air Jordans), but I would happily give it a shot. I’ve conducted telephone surveys and I wear designer jeans with back pocket stitching that would flatter even the most sylphic man’s ass. Whether or not your favorite books include "Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet," you, too, can be the ideal reader for Knox. Though she loves to taunt the staunch literary type with references to Andy and Barney, Pimp My Ride, and Wango Tango, her poems revel not only in the affirmation that American pop culture is substantive enough, thank you very much, but, that, even within the realm of the bull rider "hot blood" lurks beneath the surface.