Things That Happen Once, Jones's fifth volume, may well be his finest yet, combining currents of southern evangelism, contemporary sophistication, and passionate moral engagement. Its forty-one poems display an exciting power of language and open up new visions of inheritance and parenthood, sexuality and change. In doing so, these poems release energy that American poets and readers of poetry will eagerly welcome.
Jones won Elizabeth Bishop's support for his first book and the National Book Critics Circle award in 1990 for his third, Transparent Gestures. In his newest work, he continues to plumb the depths of rural southern life. His poetics are subtle, but his imagery, his stories, and his wry observations of the transcendent and the inexplicable reach your consciousness like lightning on a hot, dark night. Jones writes about when he tasted his first Coca-Cola and watched an electrocution, when television arrived in his remote Alabama valley, when civilization intruded in a big way and "the lights spread everywhere." His poems accelerate quickly, and you find yourself in the midst of a church service in which people are talking in tongues, in a car crash, in jail, or at the scene of a murder. These are stirring, surprising poems about the gritty details and hard lessons of life in the South, about desegregation, pot smoking, horses, love, family, and spirituality. Booklist, ALA