Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I've had a few conversations with Joshua Marie Wilkinson over the years. "Until the Lantern's Shaky Song," might just be the least strained and easy of them all (my fault, not his). This new chapbook, just out from cinematheque press, is made up of 26 poems/love letters written for Wilkinson's friends, lovers and confidants, and could just be the most intimate self-portrait this poet has ever released into the world.

Each poem in the book is essentially made up of two equal parts (1 part friend, 1 part Josh), giving us the equivalent of Wilkinson climbing inside the skin of each of these other writers (almost every poem, in my estimation, is "for" a fellow poet), and finding them to be, not ill-fitting, but like store bought Halloween costumes, you can always tell who's underneath. Thus, what we are left with is a collection of poems that really does play out a like a party; lots of voices, a little music and enough stories to keep you entertained for hours and hours. "Iowa is full of/ those water towers I can smell/ the grass & wake up I don't/ know where & I think of that Myles/ poem about being president & my phone/ is dead..."
I love "Poem for Joshua Beckman" for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I was there in Iowa City when those two rolled through town on the Poetry Bus. That does, however, lead to the one issue I foresee with this book...I wonder if it's possible to be lured to all the places Wilkinson would like to pull you to without knowing him, or the character's that dance all over these poems. In short, are these just "poems for my friends," or can they be for everyone?

That said, this is an amazing set of poems in an equally amazing package. It's really fun to see JMW try on all these different outfits and still overwhelm you with his atmospheric prowess, not to mention that every single line has the ability to teach you what adoration and love really are, and, much like the sketches Van Gogh would scribble into his letters, even if they are for someone else, it still feels good to imagine them being for you.

And, like sprinkles on top of a promise, the book comes with a cd of Wilkinson reading a selction of the poems...which is awesome, becuase it has always been live that JMW's poems expose themselves for what they really are...the master ramblings of one of the smartest poets working today.

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