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by G.C. Waldrep
Center for Literary Publishing, $16.95 (paper)
Liturgical, intimate, and intelligent, G.C. Waldrep’s first collection, Goldbeater’s Skin, restores poetry to the natural and to its natural status as a creature bred of pathos and inquiry. At first Waldrep’s palpable ambition as a poet and his fierce breadth of knowledge may seem to conflict with his faith—he is one of a handful of converts to the Amish church, which views education beyond the eighth grade, among other things, as prideful. But readers will soon realize that Waldrep is drawn to that space where the exception meets the rule: “The difference between D-sharp and E-flat lies in the composition of the chord: in this case trees, light, water,” he writes. Nature defines by likeness and distance; it weaves and untangles the coterminus. And it is by this same rigorous process enacted in the poems, a science of subjectivity, that Waldrep attains a new semantics—of religious experience, of origin, of empathy. He writes, “Try imagining the theoretical as a succession of indigenous archetypes: / predestination, evolution, relativity :: ram, salamander, jackal.” Titles such as “Apocatastasis” and “Synderesis” may, on first blush, strike some readers as intimidating or pretentious, strapped as they are with metaphysical and moral cargo, but the poems themselves dispel potential self-seriousness with tender admissions (“I raise one hand in darkness and see all five of my motives”) and literary sleight-of-hand (“Perhaps this cold will pass. Perhaps / that bridge was not a harp at all”). Elsewhere he indulges in good humor and reverence for the vernacular as means of sublimating, or at least complicating, the poems’ religious implications: “I misread GUITAR LESBIANS for GUITAR LESSONS on a streetside sign. / They’re out there, strumming away.” And when faced with the diluted, subway-preacher idioms of contemporary Christianity, Waldrep’s argument is neither defensive nor condescending, but plain, self-evident, and above all, memorable: “The good news / when the sun rises in the morning / is that the sun rises in the morning.”
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