Annotation byLisa Cheby
Maybe it is my own addiction to an “M.,” or my own sense of longing and waiting for my own King of Spain to move from figment of my imagination to corporeal being by my side that fascinates me about this book that revels in and examines and tries to transcend longing and obsession with ending longing. Wakoski engages a confessional voice – the speaker is often talking directly to someone, named or unnamed, that is not present and whose absence inspires longing and contemplation – in search for courage and love. Though that statement makes this book sound prosaic and sappy, it is not. It his honest and beautiful. I must stop and breathe deeply after each of her poems to bask in that darkness and the momentary release from my own addictive patterns. Because thoughts are addictive. Our mind goes to places for a feel-good fix, even if the lack of fulfillment of those thoughts ultimately brings disappointment or sadness. Wakoski recreates this fluctuation between the high and the fall through line breaks that surprise, but don’t leap, and repetition.
First, I was caught by her intentionality of line breaks. However, rather than turning or leaping, as is commonly found in modern verse, Wakoski’s breaks work more like punchlines, not in humor, but in the revelation of more than what was first apparent. She turns not out, but back in, over and over and over again. In “Burning My Bridges Behind Me,” the speaker contemplates the traits of her ideal mate, “Who from a burning bridge/ and a mountain / could forge some new metal / giving passage across the gap / into my life” (45). Here, with the bridge image built and etched into the readers mind we are hanging on a gap and rather than turning that to a new thought or image, than leaping somewhere new, Wakoski brings us back to the internal, the abstract, both surprising and deepening the image. The gorge to be bridged is internal, is the solitary life. At times, as in “The Fear of Dropping the Violin,” this break and punchline is self-deprecating, the confession of the reality of the speaker’s situation: “for my leaving is so common, / surely no one could cry over it” (59) or “Like a battleship/ my life goes on” (60). In these we feel the weight of the speaker’s journey inward to make sense and meaning of her life. There is a sort of deadpanness to this reality that cannot be jumped over or away from.
The second device Wakoski employs is her use of repetition and recycling of images. It is not just repetition, however, but an obsessive examination and reworking of words, images and phrases, sustained through poems, sections, and, even, the entire book. It is as if she has taken the idea of repetition of a pantoum or villanelle to the level of the book and discarded with the idea of form. This is apparent in the first section where there seems to be a single speaker working to manifest her partner and caught between the one who left, M., a recurring you in the poem, and the ideal King of Spain, who is always there, waiting to appear, but never fully present. Likewise, in the third section, “Fifteen Poems for a Lunar Eclipse None of Us Saw,” she reuses the images of roses, moon, water, blood, Lorca, lips, fingers, and diamonds, like a sestina extended through a series of poems rather than constrained into one form. The images begin to feel like a reoccurring dream. The first poem ends with the phrase, “not the blood a dreamer kissed from my mouth” (75), followed by “blood in mouth/ thick as porridge / and yet I did not feel/ as if I were dying // one kissed the blood away / from my mouth/his own” (76) in the following poem. Other images are similarly weaved through the other poems. Some, like the diamonds, extend beyond one section and appear through the book.
At other times, it is as if she included multiple drafts of the same poem in the book, creating a sequence of revision and re-visioning of ideas that her mind insists on returning to, for the feel-good fix as well as the need to feel something or understand something, even if it is the pain of longing, loss, and uncertainty. This is best seen in “Harry Moon from my Child’s Anthology of Verse” where entire sections are repeated in new contexts. For instance, the beginning of this long poem contains the image, “I said/ nothing. /Thinking of a girl, riding naked on her zebra,/ wearing only her diamonds” (107), a page later becomes, “I could not say / I was a girl riding naked on a zebra, / wearing only her diamonds. / So I remained silent” (108). Later, the lines change slightly to “Riding naked on my zebra, wearing only / my diamonds. But I could not; / for it was a vision that rescued me” (110). In each, the image is associated with silence, with the inexpressible, but each time, the inability to speak has a different motivation. Finally, the diamonds are turned into “Crystal fragments of my pain,/ cold, stunning. / Now I wish I had real diamonds” (110). Additionally, the images of diamonds are used through other poems, connecting the this idea of re-visioning and working things out between poems and sections of the book.
As I prepare to revise my first manuscript, I want to find images, not just themes, that might strength the emotional energy of the book as a collection, not just poems grouped together. Since many of the poems revolve around similar topics and subjects, perhaps this type of repetition is a way to keep the book dynamic while also feeling holistic.