Saturday, November 19, 2022

Rebecca Wolff, Slight Return


experiment in voice and character #3


and that’s a feeling you can only have alone

and that’s a feeling you can only have alone



and that’s a feeling you can only have alone


I’m going home to see my Jesus

That boy is dead and gone.

The latest from Hudson, New York poet, fiction writer, editor and FENCE magazine/Fence Books/The Constant Critic founder Rebecca Wolff is the poetry collection Slight Return (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2022). The author of four previous collections of poetry—Manderley (University of Illinois Press, 2001), Figment (W.W. Norton, 2004), The King (W.W. Norton, 2009) [see my review of such here] and One Morning. (Wave Books, 2015) [see my review of such here]—she is also the author of “one novel, and numerous pieces of occasional prose,” Wolff’s Slight Return suggests a cheeky reference to a potential “return,” possibly to writing itself, after having stepped back from spearheading the journal she founded back in 1998. Or, as she writes, to open the poem “Corrective: A Companion”: “The demands of art / upon my art [.]” Wolff is a sly commentator, so the possibility is simultaneously there and potentially not, perhaps entirely speculative through my own reading of her slant first-person narratives. Either way, the title poem, set to close the second of her six numbered sections, speaks of personal renewal and the possibility of renewed growth: “But / I have been given the opportunity to begin again / to start over, moving forwards // bereft, stripped bare, bereaved, the old // personality wasn’t working and nothing meant anything anymore [.]” A bit further on, she offers: “I’m going to have to look for something else / to give my life meaning // to give meaning to my life; as for continuing, one must // or is it possible to decide to continue no matter what, vessel?”

Wolff’s is a staggered, halted lyric, set entirely within the present moment, and propelled by fits and starts and meditative exposition. There is such a sense of pause and pacing, line and line-break, along with her examination of attempting to reorient both the self and the writing through the writing; reworking a foundation, and keeping to small: the short phrase and the deft turn, quick and precise. “And how I wield a cliché,” she writes, near the opening of “Peak Experience,” “tells you a lot about a person // appetite for husbands/ other women’s husbands // I can see other women’s husbands // a mile away. This one’s a grown man. // He can like my shit on Instagram.” Keeping to small to rebuild, slowly, surely and certainly. Where was she before, I might wonder, that her poems speak to such a transition, especially one that sits with such discomfort, steely-eyed and headstrong?

The two-page poem “Ant Life,” set near the end of the collection, is a master study in pacing, held and held and pivot, turn, as she writes: “A host // inviolate keeps / that beast in the castle / who hides // his yonder / ugliness // politely. When I have need // dig in / drink deep.” The poem steps, pauses, turns and steps in stunning ways, demanding the eye take note of a rhythm etched in Wolff’s unique lyric stone. This is a powerful and subtle collection, always holding back a bit, to keep the line from breaking entirely apart. There are ways in which this collection exists as an announcement of itself, writing through and about change from the inside; of an attempt to write through a new series of perspectives, and ways of building, searching and rebuilding. “I need to get home,” she writes, to close the poem “Hallowe’en,” “lie down, close my eyes. When I try to see / myself with love through someone who loves me’s eyes / it makes me weep. So lit, / unchained and undead.” Or, as the final half of the poem “rock heart” writes:

as with this forge Emily Dickinson spoke of there is no
distinction to be made here

between the literal and the symbolic, it’s all one all the time
all one here now in your head and mine

you took my heart I’ll never stop saying it
it’s on your property with you

No comments: