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Liz Waldner’s Play represents her most accessible, most openly romantic, most unabashedly Romantic, collection of poetry. Unlike the dark forebodings and anguish that have defined her work since Etym(bi)ology, A Point Is That Which Has No Part and Dark Would (the missing person), Play reads like a breakthrough into illumination and restfulness. Largely set as Sapphoic dialogues between Eastern and Western philosophy and poetics—“Argument withal, within”—these poems test the limits of rapprochement, of translation, between cultures. Here, the “other,” another way of being in the world, teaches the ego to accept its dissolution (demonstrated most effectively in “The Imagined Snake Is The Sport Of The Rope”), a “lesson” previously reserved for the natural world. Waldner brings both together through the figures of human and animal females, even acknowledging that the searching pathos of an early book, Homing Device, has culminated in discovery (“The Homing Device Comprehended At Last”): “when my god leaves me—/ She doesn’t leave you/When I don’t know she’s there, then/ And now?” From her first book Waldner’s ecriture feminine has had a distinctly (Southern) Dickinsonian accent; she still hears with her skin, tastes with her eyes, touches with her ears. Waldner’s comprehension of the myriad mirrors of phenomena without conflating, even when reversing, sensibility and intelligibility is as audacious as it is admirable.
Briefly forgetting the title, as I read, I heard Waldner’s sequential, wry, digressive work as theater, in which it seems two (or more) speak to each other—akin to Waiting for Godot. But she’s made the senses occur in digressions as if strands spiraling out and out inclusive while undercutting the digresser all “Greek-chorus-like” (lyric(s) as of Geo Harrison’s and Whitman’s “De-accessioned bloom”): “Sweet the Demosthenean pebble/ Look there will you lick that stone?/ Rather will I extend its shadow.” Every element, “Each with its shadow,” is a translation of something else materialized in its sound finding the interior place, a real (actual) state of wonder.
In Play are two compelling voices deftly outlined by a lyricism that illuminates their intimate encounters with the actual. Whether lovers, ego/id, or disciple/avatar, these interlocutors assay what is at the heart of being human. Here, all the affliction of an "Argument withal, within" is not solved, nor salved, but permeated with the succor of true acknowledgment: "I heard it with my skin." Waldner does not mollify or diminish the suffering in a world where lost daughters are pictured on milk cartons, and nature is assaulted by commerce, but her grace and humor in enacting the text's deeply compassionate exchanges suggest that, with our senses attuned, we can embrace living, even at its most starkly challenging—"Permission to not know granted/ And inhaled gratefully."
Liz Waldner breaks open words and self to release the hidden otherness within. Set in motion, they’re “saking the world into being” line by astonishing line, in a dance that spirals deeper into intimacy. What’s essential here is what's essential to me about poetry—the sense of play, as in, discovery, collaboration, contact, delight—all of this without any “pretty poety-boo,” as Whalen called it. Her question is primary—what is it to be alive in the “water of Now”—as is her way—an interior journey that keeps expanding, excluding nothing. “Can you breathe at all with so many in you?” The poems in Play do breathe, each breath a surprising turn. I follow with awe.
[Distributed by Small Press Distribution.]