The poems in Instructions between Takeoff and Landing take place in the middle of myriad journeys: tracking the twin Voyager satellites as they vanish into the unknown, reckoning with a troubling national history, looking back at life lived and forward to the life yet to come. Speakers meditate on the death of loved ones and their own mortality, relationships bent and broken, misleading histories at odds with personal stories, faith and doubt, a ubiquitous media culture, and their own origins and hoped-for destinations. Weaving deft transitions in tone from tender to bombastic, apologetic to brash, and humorous to elegiac, this collection asserts the ways in which even now, we strive to contain Whitmanic multitudes within the constantly shifting borders of self.
Poems hover in the liminal space between traditional and innovative form, locating there a way to entice the reader to enter while pushing the boundaries of what poetry can do. Amid this collection’s formal inventions, poems offer a sustained reading comprehension exam that both encapsulates and interrogates the speaker, the culture, and even the reader. In the context of a nation hinging on the axes of justice, freedom, self-expression, and tragedy, the voices in these poems reflect on how they both shape and are shaped by the invisible forces and inescapable influences that surround us.
About the Author
Charles Jensen is the author of the poetry collections Nanopedia and The First Risk and seven chapbooks of poetry and nonfiction. His poems have appeared In American Poetry Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs designated him a Cultural Trailblazer, and he has received the Outwrite Nonfiction Chapbook Award, Zócalo Poetry Prize, Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize, and a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. He directs the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.
Advanced praise for Instructions between Takeoff and Landing
Charles Jensen’s Instructions Between Takeoff and Landing is a poetic primer for living through these recent years “bloated with the arrogance of America.” From the personal to the political and back (with a delightful Adrienne Rich-infused cento), Jensen’s poems are elegiac, hilarious, and deadly serious. Formally inventive—with a series of “story problems” and quiz questions about you’ve just read—Jensen provides an immersion experience, a delicately ironic jolt with each poem. “Define “future.’” Then visit the “Museum of Past Wrongs.” Follow his Instructions and you’ll emerge wiser.
In the language of the survey, the memo, the instruction, and the quiz, clarity is of the utmost importance. In Charles Jensen’s new collection, what is clear is the scope of Jensen’s inventiveness and his acute sense of humor, all of which is honed to a razor-sharp tip. With deft lyric and rhetorical skill, the poems interrogate this American quotidian, urging readers to carefully understand the magnitude of what Jensen’s poems ask because there is most certainly going to be an exam at the end. The poems prepare us for the moment when we are tested and when Jensen’s searing blend of humor, inquiry, and speculation show us all the answers.
–Oliver de la Paz
The collection opens with a dedication to the author’s brothers. It says for my brothers Gary and Dennis sailing on ahead. Readers journey through the immediacy of death and how one perseveres with the lived experience. At times, humorous and philosophical, the voice in these poems is self-aware and vulnerable. For a time I believe people could hear my thoughts. How else did they know my most private desires, the reluctance in my heart when I looked too long at a boy in my class?
Instructions Between Takeoff and Landing is Charles Jensen’s most dynamic collection. Poems range in style from questionnaires, reading quizzes, and prose. We find the unexpected. Jensen’s dexterity with form and imagination are carefully balanced. Though the voice in these poems is urgent, Jensen wants us to slow down and listen. He tells us: You’ve come to worry about being lost the way I am lost. I have become a cautionary tale. Jensen’s poems are direct, and they address the value and complexity of lives lived in the world around us.
“The playful manner Jensen offers his structures, set with wry humour, often belie some of the dark material he wrestles with throughout the collection, from Miranda Rights, the belief in the “rapture,” to fear of death and of death itself.” —Rob McClennan