On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo, by Wendy Taylor Carlisle (Cyberwit, 2019) Comes to This, by Jeff Weddle (Nixes Mate Books, 2017)
About four years ago, I did five readings in Louisiana and Alabama with Wendy Taylor Carlisle and Jeff Weddle, arranged by publisher Jonathan Penton. Poems I can hear or read a few times and still enjoy and find nuance in are hard to come by, and Wendy and Jeff were bringing those in the tour.
In these books, that quality continues.
One word that popped up while I was reading through Wendy’s On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo was “hardworking.” Not that the verse and voice are laborious; nay, she is funny, intense, cutting and observant, occasionally all of that in one poem. I say hardworking because she frames her poems in various ways, finding a form and delivery that fit the content. Prose poems, thematically related poems, quatorzains and a short play, among other forms.
Darwin, Snow White, Wonder Woman and Cary Grant are among those appearing in this book. But some of my favorite moments in this book are when Wendy appears directly, as she’s such a heart-felt, sharp-eyed human. In most of the poems she’s just behind the scenes, bringing fames, focus and information. But then she steps to the front of the stage and rips herself open:
“No one knows you like your mother they
say, always assuming that she wants to or
does or notices you at the other end of the
leash with which she holds on to your
comet’s tail of energy and guarded love.”
(“No one knows you like your mother”)
“Thighs and breasts, and how that low laugh
beguiled and that glance cleared the room, and
in this way, the whole wide southern summer
rushed past without a thought. I regarded the
local mutts. I was afraid all the time.”
Wendy Taylor Carlisle—an expert craftsperson, wise observer of history culture and human nature, and a great person to spend time with, whether on a reading tour or by reading this book.
A word that came to mind reading Jeff Weddle’s Comes to This is “anthemic,” not as in “national,” but more like “rock,” stadium poems read in front of a wall of amplifiers. Not that Jeff is a spandex wearing, mike stand twirling kind of guy. No, he’s an anonymous looking everyman, taking mental notes on what he sees.
The varying perspectives in Jeff’s poems align with who he’s speaking to, sometimes a specific person, actual or fictional:
”Paula danced with the gods
and the gods fucked her good.
But the magazines were right:
Paula was a blinding miracle.
Never heard of her? Isn’t that
the way it works?”
(“The Light of the World”)
sometimes a specific group:
“you antichrist poets
and sad bombers
you fish out of water
you sharks and aardvarks”
and often he’s just speaking to all of us:
“Air conditioned theaters with stadium seating
will only take you so far.
Reality television and pornography
will only take you so far.
Football and cold beer will only take you so far,
even if the home team crushes.”
(“See America First”)
Jeff doesn’t write, in this book at least, poems about himself. The pronoun “I” rarely appears. But Jeff is speaking personally and honestly about what he sees in and thinks about the world around him. This isn’t a happy book, but these aren’t happy times (and the book came out pre-Covid). The poems aren’t, overall, depressing, but informative, and challenging us to do better, showing us some traps and people to avoid, giving us some laughs and winks along with the winces.
dan raphael's 26th book of poetry, Out in the Wordshed, is scheduled to come out this fall from Last Word Press, Other recent poems appear in Synchronized Chaos, Pangolin, Rasputin and Otoliths.