The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours: The Poetry of Jill Scott is a highly ambitious collection of prose that, while highly regarded by critics due to her concert performances, falls short on the mark of being poetically engaging and nowhere close to prolific. Partly fueled by her musical career as a successful singer, songwriter, and spoken word artist, this ensemble of prose comes together for an underwhelming poetry experience that doesn’t hold up to the hype.
On the surface it is a book you really want to like; if you’ve ever heard Jill Scott’s sexually charged poem Thickness from the Experience 826 album or Cross My Mind from Words and Sounds Volume 2 album, the bar is already set high for our expectation of her ability as a poet. We know going into it she is no stranger to verse, rhyme, and every iambic pentameter in between. We also know she is a highly capable wordsmith that has mastered the ability to captivate an audience within the poetic sphere. Unfortunately, The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours doesn’t give us more of what we’ve come to expect from her but a shell of what she’s already given to us. Thickness and Cross My Mind are noticeably absent; its similar replacements are half lustered attempts to recapture the dynamic of her most well known and highly regarded live pieces that set a pace and tempo of repetitive female stereotypes readers simply will not care about.
The five sections which comprise The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours promises a unique poetic experience but fall short of delivering it to readers. All The Evil And All The Love, a play on a line from the film The Color Purple, is a lukewarm affair of various protagonists jaded by sex shock, terrible ethnic colloquialisms, and the theme that any form of domestic violence is a small price to pay for good sex. Haiku are merely the author’s random thoughts, oversaturated with half-hearted attempts at being “deep” but come off as opinionatedly conceited. I Be Thinking is an ad mixture of the author’s thoughts spliced with our protagonists’ angst, caught between a cry for help and a masochistic need to fit in, be happy, and have a man at all costs. Us Sistahs Sometimes attempts to finally give us strong protagonists but loses itself and its point halfway through the long-winded prose that sounds more like a valedictorian speech than poems. And finally, Poetry 4 Poets And Folks Who Would Like To Be seem to be a boring compost of filler comprised of half finished pieces, audition material, and ideas for live stage performances rather than a strong, comprehensive, and concise finale.
The central thematic concern in every section feature various female protagonists (told through an amalgam of first, second, and third person voices) who reek of sheer stereotypical desperation in regards to black American women in heterosexual relationships. We never get a fighting chance to like them once we’re thrown into their random thoughts. Nor do we get a chance to know anything about them that doesn’t revolve around their unnatural need to barter lust for love in some capacity. All we are privy to know is that they are weak, lost, and by proxy, unsure of who they are unless a man defines them either in the kitchen, the bedroom, or by jaded domestic abuse. All we are supposed to know is that it’s “deep” because it’s a black woman, it’s “controversial” because some of them have an erotic tone, and it’s “real” because it’s raw. As such, the context of these chaotic reflections leaves us with no closure.
Adding insult to injury is the nagging feeling that Ms. Scott is casting judgment on some of our protagonists, cheating us out of a fair, balance, and unbiased analysis as we go through the motions with them. It isn’t unique storytelling that drive the prose or haiku but petulant condemnation; the disservice we get by such choices are sloppy pieces that feel incomplete, leaving us with more questions about the protagonists than answers. By Ms. Scott’s own admission on some of the prose the poems are not finished so we feel the rush and the push to accept her train of thought without any other option. We are then left with no wiggle room to establish our protagonists’ experiences as relevant to the human condition nor worthy of our attention. The end result is a struggle to finish reading the source material that leaves us more often than not on the fringes of boredom.
Had the nature of The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours steered more towards a narrative linear prose that set to connect each moment, minute, and hour, Ms. Scott’s ramblings may have rhythmically worked. Instead, we are forced to accept the fractured but whole pieces that don’t make sense from one poem to the next; for every one poem that at best is mediocre we are left with ten behind it that are borderline boring, unimaginative, repetitive in tone, and plainly just don’t fit well together. It settles on our palettes as a rehab session gone terribly wrong featuring a junkie that hasn’t accepted they have a problem. It simmers in bitterness as we are thrust into a pattern of misguided sexual thoughts, judgmental femininity, and lackluster self-esteem poetics that bores us to tears. Filler of old poetry more than twenty years old is put in to blend the taste of dread we struggle with trying to wade the mediocre waters to the end.
Jill Scott can do better. And we should expect her to.
The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours: The Poetry Of Jill Scott is currently available in stores and on the internet through several publishers, released by St. Martin’s Press/Simon & Schuster.