Barrelhouse Reviews: La Croix Water by Russel Jaffe



Review by Adam Crittenden


If you needed to trust one poet with the task of turning a beverage into poetry, then you would need to trust Russell Jaffe. His chapbook La Croix Water, released by Damask Press, will make you want to be a consumer in a good way. The beverage itself is surging in terms of sales and popularity recently, and what a time to be alive to see a healthy soda make it (the drink consists of carbonation and natural flavors). Jaffe explores this beverage as a way to understand ourselves and what our relationship is with our bodies and beverage-industry consumerism. This chapbook is not just a collection of poems; rather, it is a collection of interactive experiences. Each flavor offers a color-coordinated space for readers to write down their own experiences. Jaffe’s formula is both invigorating and unrelenting while we down one La Croix after the next. He invites the reader to be an active writer—to engage in the process in a communal manner.

To set the stage for all things La Croix, Jaffe critiques our connection to consumption and capitalism brilliantly in his “Introduction”: 

            But damning capitalism is like asking a fish to damn the water in which it swims. (5)

Sure, there is irony and the hyperbole which follows this line, but the beverage itself also shapes identity in Jaffe’s poems with sincerity. Yes, the speaker of the poetry—Jaffe self-identifies by the way—was drinking La Croix Water before it was cool at the age of seven; however, there is sincerity in knowing that your cool beverage is not yours anymore. Additionally, we learn that there is comfort in La Croix and not just that it is cool. La Croix serves as a friend who never dies. La Croix is there to document our lives one spent can after another—accumulating and shifting and reminding us that we did things. Jaffe writes: “La Croix allows an unfettered relationship between human being and human / product” (7). 

By seeing ourselves as a human product, we open ourselves up to another level of introspection. In his poem/flavor titled “Orange,” Jaffe explores how our bodies are mysterious but can be woken up with La Croix. How do we know the truths of our bodies? Jaffe offers: 

“Sometimes when you're really on the orange // you'll say, / I know the truth of my body. // And then you'll say, that's bullshit, I only know I don't know what pain is, I don't / know what feels good and that's the truth” (9).

The cliché is that we are what we eat, but after reading La Croix Water I believe we are what we drink. Consequentially, each flavor offers another mood or another aspect of being. Take the poem/flavor titled “Tangerine,” for instance: 

There’s a confusing new flavor in town,
and it’s you. 
There’s something so tragic and so unspeakably beautiful in being expendable,
or being secondary: To arise from shadows, or
to have the strength to put oneself on the line. There never was a line.
The sun teaches us this lesson again and again, and every time we close our
eyes we
forget it
though. (30)

The mind can’t help but jump to the conclusion that we are just as expendable as a can of La Croix. But maybe La Croix isn’t expendable, and maybe we aren’t either. It’s almost as if to be expendable means that you aren’t expendable in the first place. 

I do hope that Jaffe gives us more La Croix in the future so we can taste the human condition one more time. I also hope Jaffe is getting a cut of La Croix Water’s profits. We are told to drink each poem’s flavor at the end of each poem—I imagine that this is meant to be a titanic challenge accomplished in one sitting for the entire book, but how you live your La Croix is your business.

Adam Crittenden holds an MFA in poetry from New Mexico State University where he was awarded an Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has appeared in decomP, Bayou Magazine, Barn Owl Review, Whiskey Island, and other journals. Blood Eagle is his first full-length book of poetry and is available now from Gold Wake Press. Currently, he teaches writing in Albuquerque at Central New Mexico Community College.