WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There is a certain power in simplicity and that strength is evident in Honors College faculty member J. Peter Moore’s new collection of poetry, “Zippers and Jeans” (Selva Oscura, 2017). Hoping to pull in readers who don’t consider themselves typical poetry lovers, Moore is stripping down verse to its most basic form, presenting an unexpectedly comical journey through heartbreak.
“More than any of my previous work, this collection represents an effort at plainsong,” he explained. “I wanted a form that could at once address seriousness, but without devolving into the familiar patterns of elegy. I found deadpan, a mode of joke-telling that uses silence and flat expression to deliver grave truth in a humorous manner.”
Taking its title from a song by Memphis musician Harlan T. Bobo, “Zippers and Jeans” tells the story of a man, who upon having his heart broken, finds he can commune with inanimate objects. At regular intervals, the real world leans in on the loveless speaker, cajoling him through the language of Anglo- Saxon riddles, plying him with snapshots of the past, pushing him on his search for the simple life. Along the way, the reader will find a series of short essays on the aesthetics of vernacular culture, which focus on topics such as mass-produced musical instruments, professional wrestling and the history of deadpan comedy. Like the story of unrequited love, each of these topics relate back to the central trajectory of the book, a descent into the cultural mythology of Memphis.
“I hope people get a laugh out of it,” Moore said. “And it would be cool if the book served as a gateway to all of the incredible art that nurtured it, from the photographs of William Eggleston to the poetry of Charles Reznikoff and the music of Bobo.”
J. Peter Moore, Honors College faculty member
According to Moore, “Zippers and Jeans” is drastic departure from his previous collection “Southern Colortype,” which he describes as a type of funeral dirge for American manufacturing jobs. In addition to delving into the humorous arts, “Zippers and Jeans” explores the city where Moore came of age and the rhythms of everyday life—the response of cashiers at Circle K, waiters at highway diners and children on the bus.
“I have long been an admirer of the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, particularly his film Mystery Train, which uses the city of Memphis as the backdrop for a series of overlapping vignettes,” Moore added. “I wanted to write a book about my experience of the city, one that kind of extended upon the aesthetic established in Jarmusch’s film.”
The Honors College will be celebrating Moore’s new collection of poems on Monday, Nov. 6 at 4:00 p.m. in the Reading Room of HCRS. All Purdue students, staff and faculty are welcome to attend. Moore is known in the Honors College for his classes on slang, underground networks and the letterpress, as well as his Study Away trips to New Orleans and Berlin. A true interdisciplinary scholar, he encourages students to stretch their thinking and approach literature, art and linguistics in creative new ways.
“This book is actually perfect for the beginning writer, as I often thought of it in terms of a character telling the story of how he became a poet,” Moore said. “Heartbreak is involved, but so is learning how to pay close attention to the strange details of your particular surroundings. Add to this, the importance of finding out what types of art you like and absorbing yourself in them.”
More says the final ingredient, according to the book, is finding opportunities to get outside of yourself, how to care for yourself through caring for others, and thinking of art as contributing to this social project.