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Robert Wrigley, Earthly Meditations

  As the front cover demonstrates, Wrigley’s Earthly Meditations, a collection of sixty-one poems from his first six books as well as nineteen new poems, shows a surprising attention to detail.  I was originally drawn to this collection since I seem to have an unquenchable enthusiasm for poems about nature.  I assumed that a collection with the word “earthly” in the title would not mislead me too much. As it turns out, the poems deal with a variety of topics. However, what’s notable is that many start out with a singular concept and expand upon themselves in original ways. Take a look at the poem titled “Enemy”:

“Inside their boxes, the matches consolidate
their desperations. A rank of patriots,
a terrorist cell, each nearly identical head-

blue here, red there-primed and ready to burst.

Even the ubiquitous similar bodies, little different
in death or life, and the flames,
regardless of purpose, annihilating the night.” (13)

The beginning of “Enemy” clearly states that it is talking about matches. Of course, matches quickly become a metaphor for an enemy itself, but in seven lines Wrigley says a lot. The poem seems to juxtapose chaos with uniformity. Each match, or rather each individual, is nearly identical and ends up producing the same destructive result, regardless of purpose. Thus, these “desperations” create beings that are eternally static aside from a brief “burst”. The strong language and cynical tone of the poem really struck a chord with me.

Other poems in the collection I really admire because of their skillful blending of poetry and narrative. These lack the clever, brief punch of poems like “Enemy”, but their long length (some over ten pages) and dense language rapidly draws you into the poem’s world. Instead of becoming superfluous and tiresome, these poems tend to improve as they go along. From the beginning of “More Rain”:

“Indolent and watery, the nightcrawlers sprawl
four or five a stride, all the way
to the mailbox. The robin on top’s a bleary orb,
a rumpled bird ball fat with reprobation,
burdened out of flight by the realm’s false coin.” (132)

The robin is introduced in the first stanza. Later in the poem the worms and the cat are introduced, creating a natural cycle: rain makes worms appear; robin wants the worms; cat wants the robin. Similar to “Enemy”, “More Rain” focuses on not one but a series central figures to ground itself. It then continually expands upon the scene with intense detail, using unorthodox language and metaphors that are sometimes odd, yet somehow fitting. With these central figures in place, the poem never seems to lose focus. In other words, one could simply say the poem talks about animals preying on one other, but the abstract language and dreamlike story create a richly imagined world.

A lot of other poems in this collection are prime examples of solid storytelling within the constraints of prose. I highly recommend this collection. However, if you only read one, read the title poem “Earthly Meditations”. I didn’t post any of it because a single segment wouldn’t do it justice.

-Brad Peterson