Why read poetry? It’s so hard! Believe me, it’s even harder to write. Poetry distills life into intense stanzas of images, experiences, and emotions. The best resonates not only with the mind, but also with the heart (and soul). I hated poetry when I was in school. It wasn’t until I got serious about writing as an adult that I decided to revisit poetry. I began with the poetry in the Norton anthology I still owned from my college years. I read the poetry aloud. Then I read Homer’s The Iliad aloud, a couple pages each morning before I began my writing work. I discovered that poetry could open my mind to all possibilities, make me sensitive to rhythm in my own writing, and remind me constantly to choose words with care.
Richard Carr works words to the bone. Reading his poetry is like taking a concentrated, intense seminar in language and how words illuminate human emotion. I’ve read all his published books to date, and I can say that I know (not expect) Carr will put words together in ways that stun, provoke mental double-takes, and make me groan in appreciation. How I wish I could do that!
Dead Wendy is kind of an odd title, but it accurately notes the main subject of this themed collection. In one way or another, every poem is about Dead Wendy. The middle section is even in her voice. In fact, Carr departs from his usual use of “I” and gives us specific narrators for each of the three sections. In the first, the narrator is a young man, known as “the boy.” He uses “you” with passion and ferocity, and if you aren’t a little discomfited by the first section, you’ve missed the point. Carr seems to be using “you” as not only the object of each narrator’s speech but also as addressing the reader. In the second section, Dead Wendy herself speaks, and her “you” is mostly The Boy. They both refer to “The Old Man” who narrates the third section. He does not use “you” at all, but addresses the reader with his grief and thoughts about Wendy and The Boy. Carr has chosen a challenging way to tell the story of a love triangle.
So, is Dead Wendy really dead? Oh, yeah, absolutely. But with this book, Carr also beautifully illustrates how death may deny us a person in life but not in our memories and hearts.
Each poem consists of three stanzas. I want to share some of the words and phrases that stood out for me:
- In the third poem of Section 1, Carr uses the archaic word “mere” instead of “pool of standing water.” I had to look it up, but it’s a succinct, efficient word.
- “…the clinic a front/for a hospice infested with foregone conclusions.” (In Poem 3)
- Poem X is a lovely contemplation of rain.
- Poem XVI: “His deadpan perfectly expresses his ambition.”
- Section 2, Poem VIII: “My belly was a green mountain,/and yours was a cloud passing over,/ a thunderhead of dark yearning.”
- In Poem XIII, Carr refers to fog as “the usual shrouds of England.”
- Poem XV: “Your voice is the smell of a public toilet.” I haven’t yet decided if this juxtaposition of senses really works here. Can a sound be compared to a smell?
- Poem XVII: “…give him the baritone clarity of thunder receding.”
- Section 3, Poem V: “My feet were already deep in the dirt of my long life….”
- Poem XVII: “The baked potato,/ wrinkled and spotted like the top of my hand….”
Each section ends with the same event from each narrator’s point of view. Surprisingly, it’s not about Dead Wendy.
Carr bravely takes on death of many things in this book that goes beyond human physical life on this planet. It is full of ghosts. I highly recommend it.