Words May Go
Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
Poetry’s roots are in many traditions: religious hymns, bardic songs, legends and storytelling, to name just a few. Words May Go, t wagner’s new collection of poetry, finds its own roots in the storytelling tradition. His poetry is conversational and subtle yet his imagery is crystalline.
Each poem stands alone as a kind of performance with very few extraneous words. The titles to the poems are not topic markers but part of the story being told. In his poem “I am taking the silence as a yes” he tells us:
“Years of talking to people who can’t talk
The poem’s theme is communication, especially communication through silence. The personal allusion to his father’s silence is placed against an unidentified person leaning in a doorway answering his questions with the same silence. The title and the last line of the poem are similar, the last line being “I am going to take that as a yes”. Aside from the well-roundedness of the poem is the use of capitalization in the work. The body of the poem has standard capitalization at the beginning of each line. The title, however, is written as a standard sentence, giving the poem a circular feeling, a beginning leading to an end that is a beginning. This is a rare feat and a welcome one coming from a poet’s first collection.
Mr. wagner’s imagery, as mentioned, is well crafted. It is colloquial and effortless, drawing from familiar scenes in everyday life. For example:
“Time doesn’t fly,
“Traffic still moves in a push/pull
I have chosen these examples for two reasons: first, because they make their point without any language complexity or Greco-Latinate allusions and secondly for the idiosyncratic use of capitalization that appears once again. This idiosyncrasy is reminiscent of ee cummings but seems to have a different bearing. Grammar and syntax were made to be bent and reshaped in a cummings work. Mr. wagner seems to have a different take on this, using the caps key to stress words into a hidden semiotic. Essentially, he is making us pay attention to the poem’s structure in an almost unconscious way. This allows the poem to reveal more depth to the reader.
The theme of communication between two people is shown by two poems placed just a few pages apart. In “Silence leaves when it’s ready” the conversation revolves around what is not said. Ultimately, it devolves into silence where the issue of parting is never broached. “He don’t know” is a continuous conversation between Mike and Tanya. They speak over each other, saying much but communicating nothing. The final stanza sums up the conversation with
“He don’t know what he wants
Words May Go is an exceptional first collection. Each poem stands on its own yet they each contribute to the theme of the book, making it complete. The experimental use of caps is interesting yet does not distract from the flow of the poetry. I look forward to Mr. wagner’s next collection to see how this technique develops. I do recommend this book, if for no other reason, because it is a stellar first book by a fine poet.
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As a postscript, I wanted to comment on the choice of cover art for this work. Stephen Linsteadt's oil on canvass work "The Dancer Upstairs" was an almost perfect compliment for the cover. The book title Words May Go presents an image of words flying from the mouth of the poet. This is a fairly common image that harkens back to Homer. The picture skews this somewhat. Mr. wagner's references to silence as a form of communication takes shape as the image of the dancer, head down and quiet, yet standing in front of a mirror where her upper body is reflected into infinity. This is a powerful representation of the poet's work by a fine painter whose work lengthens our own poetic horizon, as if following the emotions and words to a distant end point. Mr. Linsteadt's canvass is both an opening into the existential mood of the book as well as a summation.