if a story like a river. loose and fretful, twine. if a story with debris and froth, pulling from the banks as it comes, never the same twice, step in and be renewed.
Laura Walker’s first poem of her book story lays the groundwork for how to read it, which is to say that you, the reader, should forge your own path. I’m not saying that she’s necessarily advocating to skip around the pages at your leisure, but that’s the nature of these poems. A clear narrative can be established by reading them in order, or you can appreciate each poem individually in any order. The lack of capitalization and titles invites the reader to make a story of their own. My travels through this book are vastly different than another reader. One of many praises I could laud this book for is its ability to enhance the reality around me. These poems as individual pieces can strike your heart and give you shivers. The poems as a whole can create a fiction you get lost in. A large part of losing myself in them was the location, emotion and situation I approached them from. As I found myself bringing Laura’s book everywhere I went, different poems or narratives within the whole resonated with me. When I found myself caught in a downpour while camping, after having just left a forested ravine swarming with the peaceful meanderings of fireflies, I connected with “to lead yourself back out of the story is to fumble with shape in the dark…” as the little light I brought with me flickered and failed. When reading on the train to Chicago and people-watching with my love sitting next to me, my eyes might focus on “lay their stories out like weedstems and seedheads, stacked into halls and beds and forests.” I feel proud to say that my copy of story is beaten to hell. It has been folded, dog-eared and bent as I brought it along with me all summer. When gearing up to write this review, I felt like I had thoroughly worn the words out, as if I was testing them for durability. And I guess I was. The mark of a good book for me is its ability to be returned to. Even now, writing this review, I’ve found secrets and meanings that I had missed in my last reading. And that’s the joy of Laura’s book. I feel like I can open it at any point and start reading. The poems can come off freeing or constricting depending on where and when I’m reading them.
story as a tower. Story as a tower just as a crucial brick is removed;
I’m not saying my haphazard reading is the best way to approach this book. The poems have a pretty explicit narrative if you read the book front to back. It swirls through reoccurring characters like the speaker’s uncles, her grandmother and a soldier, for instance. Even “the story” becomes a character itself. It “does not dig its own grave in the far field” but “limp[s] towards water or a nearby road.” Laura can jump from “if a word can be shucked. tamed. folded in a closet, holding a shotgun” to “a doll in a box, an uncle in a closet with a shotgun” in two different poems pages apart. They are implicitly connected and yet don’t need each other to create more meaning. One illuminates the other, even as it establishes its own story in a singular fashion.
story as waterfall and prismed light, story as gravity.
Some deeply dark, disturbing themes and arcs occur throughout the book. The speaker of these poems, presumably a young girl, refers to “adults in a maze of unbelted robes” or “a mother as violent as any man.” “From flat ground the story grows” until we get a larger sense of her speaker’s family: her brother, uncles and grandfather playing large roles in her own story of “habit and trauma.” Silence swells in these poems, but it’s hard not to feel uneasy about the language Laura uses for her speaker. This is not to say there aren’t moments of bright and hopeful clarity. At one point, the speaker pets a deer, “until it lowers its head and grazes, a language of trust and a solitude almost violent.” Again, though, a darkness taints the image a bit with the word “violent.” The darkness thrives in the slats of the book, always there, rarely explicit and sometimes tucked away. Laura’s poems deftly create a story while providing very little instruction on how to interpret the poems themselves. She often refers to “the story” and how to treat it but rarely prescribes a path. Depending on how the reader is feeling, they might arrive at different conclusions. The world of her speaker opens up to the audience the way any good story does. It’s up to the reader on what they grab onto, whether it’s the stories of her grandmother’s grandmother, playing with toy soldiers in the dirt or the girl’s relationship with the world around her. If I might presume and suggest a course when reading Laura’s book: Treat story as you might collect wildflowers in a field. Examine your collection on the grass one by one or collect them up into a bundle as a bouquet. Either way, your violent reaping of the world around you leaves you with intricate poems, fragile and utterly complicated. They remain gorgeous but feral. Take them with you. Shuck them for seeds. Let these seeds take root and create your own prairie through the book.
You can buy Laura Walker’s story from Apogee Press at Small Press Distribution Here.
Wes Solether teaches English and lives on a dead end street somewhere in the Midwest. He runs Bitterzoet Magazine and Press with his co-editor. Wes has been most recently published on the back of a t-shirt for BACKWORDS Blog & Press. He has a website with a very predictable address: http://www.wessolether.com. He knows you don’t have to use the w’s anymore, but he’s nostalgic.