The Student Literary Journal of Vermont State University



Jim Daniels’ book of poems “Birth Marks” follows the growth of a narrator who is taken through the hardships, ailments, and rewards of growing up in the city. This book appears to be a sort of coming-of-age poems about the narrator’s personal life growing up in an urban setting. The poem is divided by four topics: “Mega-Everything”, “Foundation”, “One Arm Raised”, and “Love Poems and Pesticide”. Though the book does not follow chronological order, it shows various dimensions of the character in the book, and his thoughts, life, and family. The book offers a unique outlook to the growth of a character growing up in the city as it follows his motivations, developments, hardships, and uplifting moments.

Daniels is able to take topics that are normally associated with middle/lower class city life, such as: jazz music, loved ones dying, and the struggle for identity. However, the language, imagery, and format that these poems are written in make them far from cliché or mundane. These poems offer a refreshing and unique perspective on the everyday life of a city-raised boy. One way Daniels does this is with his use of unique syntax and descriptions, like in his poem “Exterior With Quiet”:

Truth has a smell

like a book ruined by rain.

A lone bird’s cry, amplified

by the lack of shelter,

carries over the concrete carnage:

I used to

 there used

we used to

            Daniels’ short sentences are crisp and easy to read. He uses direct language to move his poems along and bring the reader into the poem. His change between font styles and sudden shortness in line causes the reader to pay close attention while they are reading. While some poems, like “Exterior With Quiet” have smaller sentences with more enjambement, other poems of his, like “I Dreamt I Wrote a Poem About Jazz” have longer sentences:


I wrote Miles, Bird, Trane. I almost wrote Dizzy

then I started thinking about Dizzy Dean,

the last 30-game winner in the N.L., 1934.


And futher on:


I mean Dizzy Gillepsie. But all I know about jazz

could fit into one of Dizzy’s cheeks. Those cheeks

    were the size of pregnant grapefruit, but still. If I’d a knowed.


“I Dreamt I Wrote a Poem About Jazz” is not broken up into sections like the other one is, but is all one long stanza, into long lines. Though most of the poems in the book are broken up with small stanzas, or broken up into sections, Daniels has included a few longer, less broken up poems. This creates a pleasant kink in the book for the reader. It gives the book and the poems variety. It changes the pace, the voice, and the aesthetics of the poems for the reader, allowing the book to be anything but mundane or predictable.

Though this book of poems focuses on living in the city and the troubles and rewards that come with urban life, the language is very clean. The poems rarely have profanities in it. Therefore, when a poem does have a profanity in it, it is clear that Daniels is choosing his words carefully and wisely. This book is not merely another book of poems focusing around urban life slinging slang words and profanities at the reader simply to do so. When Daniels does it, he does it in a way that shocks the reader, and emphasizes the nature of the specific poem. For example, his poem “The Laying on of Hands”:

Their bodies touch, casual in the classroom,

fingers brushing thighs under cluttered desks.

Go home and fuck, I’d tell them

if I was high or not in charge. Lust oozes above

my low bark stripping somebody’s words naked.

Their bodies touch in the casual classroom

of nodding heads half-detached, glazing out

into the gray February blah blah blah.

Go home and fuck! I’d tell them


The language that Daniels uses in this poem works for this specific piece because it shocks the reader and alters their perspective. Most people don’t assume that these are the thoughts that run through a teacher’s mind, so when they see it, it causes them to take a step back from their facade of teachers and life and re-think about what they assume they know.

Whether he is talking about how a person’s birthplace shapes them, or the impact of faith, or simply the coming of age of a young boy, Daniels presents his poems in various, unique, and refreshing ways that are interesting and engaging for the reader. His variations of format between his poems make the book easy to read, giving the reader a pleasantly surprising change of content and craft around every corner. Whether someone is from the country or from the city, they will surely find something in this book worth reading.


 – By: Megan Benway