So, full disclosure: I’ve known Valerie Wetlaufer since high school and I’m tremendously proud of her. You should also know that I have no idea how to review a book of poetry. But, since I have this book of poetry it only seemed natural to me that I would should read it (and not just a poem here and there whenever it catches my eye from its spot on my desk) and say a few words about how I feel about it.
I never know what to say about poetry. I feel like, when you talk about poetry, you should say things about the poem’s anatomy. Its structure, the word choice, how those things contributed to the overall effect of what the author has presented. But, I never feel like I can do this. Or, maybe it’s that I don’t feel like I have the authority to do this. This is especially true with this chapbook. The author presents a series of poems that feature recurring references to a number of different people (Mother, Father, Rory, the cops). If you’ll excuse a little word play here, this book provides an arresting picture of how we are here for each other, how we fail to be here for each other and how the people who we love are the people who hurt us the most. And, I feel like I don’t have authority to tell you about the anatomy or word choice or structure of these poems because I feel like I was presented a snapshot of a time, some insight into someone else’s life, and the view was so radically different from my own life that the only thing I can do with it is listen and observe and feel grateful that this book was shared with the world.
This was a really intense read that had me in tears more than once. And, more than once I found myself shocked with the reality that with which I was being presented. For example, in the poem “Home [Chaos Theory]”, the author presents us with an image of a homeless woman and dialogue from colleagues and we are left with the disconnect between what someone has experienced and what we know about them. How many people in our lives carry invisible wounds? How often do we separate people from their experiences or help to build and support the idea of “other” in their lives. (“Oh, X is just like that. I mean, you’re X but I’m not talking about you. You’re not like that.”) And, I was left wondering how often am I complicit in creating the realities that put queer people, people of color, queer people of color out of their homes? Out of jobs? In these situations where the prison complex then sweeps them up and punishes them for doing what they have to do in order to survive?
I really enjoyed this book. I really liked how the words seemed to wander across the page in some poems. I liked the use of parentheses. I loved how that made it feel sometimes like you were reading dialogue and other times like you were being given secret insight into what was said or what someone was thinking. These poems were heartbreaking and beautiful and I am so, so glad that I got the chance to read this book.
This is my Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives book for a book from a small press.
Sometimes, the words and the structure of the poem seem so spare; like you’re only getting a quarter of the story when you really prefer the whole thing. But, then you are happy to only have part of the story because just a brief glance has already brought a tear to your eye (Your Body will Haunt Me). I loved the jealous and angry in this book (Bad Wife Spankings). And, I’m so curious about the secrets (Letter to A.) I love the breathless rush of it (I gave you my–)
I think that is what poetry can bring into our lives. This reminder that we’re only ever privy to part of any act or event and that our reaction to it can be mixed (heartbroken but happy) and genuine and our own.
Mysterious Acts by my People is from Sibling Rivalry Press and is Ms. Wetlaufer’s first full length book. (She has also published some chapbooks, which are shorter. I’m also woefully ignorant of the ways of poetry publishing.) It has three sections and each of the sections has its own flavor. Some of the poems have stuck with me. (I find myself quoting “The One with Violets in her Lap” and I just discovered the title was taken from a poem from Sappho.)
I really enjoyed reading these poems and I really look forward to Wetlaufer’s second book coming out this year.