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Featured flashback

"Past is prologue" here in our Featured Flashback section, and every week we feature a new selection from our archives that belongs in this very moment.  This week, we feature Jordan Lee's poem, "Maté," which was given a "New Voices" distinction in Issue 7: Words & Music, published in 2010.

by Philip Terman

" I was introduced to Jordan Lee’s poetry at the Chautauqua Institution during one of the Writers’ Center’s open mic porch readings. We’re all familiar with open mics. They are complicated affairs; consisting as they do of anyone who wants to participate, one never knows what poem will be offered next. Naturally, there is the requisite cringing, but on occasion—and especially at the Chautauqua versions of these freeform events—one is forcefully caught, like a koi on a hook, out of one’s watery meditations and thrust up towards the fish line of language dangling in the air. And so it was with Jordan Lee, a seventeen-year-old kid whose words zinged and zapped like the caffeinated South American drink he celebrates in this poem, which, like the others he read that calm summer afternoon, bopped its fresh images in unexpected rhythms and unpredictable rhymes. I was impressed, but thought that it was more than likely the result of yet another skillful and theatric reader. But the page doesn’t lie, and when he submitted his poems to the journal, one could see that he had been reading (or absorbing by osmosis) his Williams and O’Hara as well, as evidenced in the carefully jagged line breaks and overall linguistic economy. Who can resist the power of the language in describing this exotic drink, from “Hits you back” to the unforgettable “Bombilla of / bone / this blend / of nerves / to / keep Adam from the clay ”? It wasn’t South America, but Jordan’s poem felt like one powerful shot of maté.

May he continue the habit . . ."

Philip Terman is the award-winning author of six full-length poetry collections and five chapbooks, including, most recently, This Crazy Devotion (Broadstone Books, 2020). With the writer George Looney, he co-founded and served as the Director of Poetry of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival from 2003-2017. He served as an advisory and contributing editor for many of Chautauqua's issues, including Issue 7.

[Note: Maté is a stimulant beverage made from a plant’s leaves, very popular in South America.]


Jordan Lee

Hits you back.

Turns its teeth

on yours.

Add honey and it’s smooth

as sea

grass. Nothing like

coffee, no, more

like cocaine. Wakes you

up keeps you

up and back

into gourds and tea

cups. A hoof works

as well, socketed.

Bombilla of bone,

this blend of nerves

to keep Adam from the clay.

Jordan Lee lives in New York City. His poems have been published in the Red Wheelbarrow and the Coin Flip Shuffle, and in Spanish in Voices De La Luna. Apart from poetry, Jordan writes songs and takes photos.

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