Elements of Language, Jon Cone

I learned how to write the word ‘home’
And the word ‘love’. I learned
how to write the words ‘here’ and ‘blue’.

I invented a city and taught myself how
to live with my imagination,
my baseball glove and my cat.

I learned how to write the word ‘death’
And soon after the word ‘mourn’. I learned
how to look at a field and see hills like blue flames.

Writing distinct from meaning, and meaning
a chasm apart from at last understanding
under the green-laden bough in summer’s air.

Copyright ©Jon Cone




Joe Cone’s lyrical “Elements of Language” is from his 2022 chapbook New Year Begun (Subpress). It’s a relatively short poem of 12 lines but has transformative shifts of idea and tone in each stanza.

The poem begins as a simple consideration of the nature of language as we’re reminded that humans have to learn to write and understand what words signify. The leap into imagination of the second stanza, the invention of a city (reminiscent of a Talking Heads lyric), may be a reaction to or the product of learning, but the poet has to teach himself how to live with his creativity in the American, Kerouac-like world of baseball glove and cat.

The dreamy reverie sharply ends in stanza three with the introduction of death and mourning. The dramatic imagery of looking at a field and seeing “hills like blue flames” is memorable and abstract; it leads the poet to consider writing “distinct from meaning” in the impressive last stanza. It’s a poem which is likely to provoke deeper thought and further close reading.


Jon Cone is a Canadian poet, playwright, writer, and editor who lives in Iowa.  He has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His recent works include New Year Begun: Selected Poems (Subpress Editions: Brooklyn, NY, 2022); Liminal: Shadow Agent, pts 1 and 2 (Greying Ghost, Salem, MA, 2022); and Cold House (espresso, Toronto, Ont., 2017).  With Rauan Klassnik, he wrote a collection of plays, An Ice Cream Truck Stalled at the Bottom of the World (Plays Inverse, Pittsburgh, PA 2020). For eight years he edited the literary review World Letter. Several years ago, he provided additional vocals in the recording sessions for Uruguayan poet Luis Bravo and the American experimental poet John M. Bennett. He can be followed on Twitter @JonCone.


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