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Wave Books, $14 (paper)
In the period of time recorded in Jon Woodward’s Rain, the speaker represented in the poems (ostensibly Woodward himself) makes breakfast, hangs out with his friend Patrick, fantasizes about the prophet Ezekiel, and falls in love. All of this is presented matter-of-factly, in a thrown-off manner that suggests note-taking for what might later become poems. What transforms this material into poetry now is form: all of these lyrics are cast in five-line stanzas with five words per line. Woodward’s strict adherence to a simple, easily discernible pattern reminds us that something other than the organic unfolding of a mind in thought is at play here. To take control of his thoughts Woodward imposes upon them a seemingly arbitrary physical constraint; he is writing instead of thinking, or better, he is writing as a new way of thinking. This is a deceptively self-conscious and complicated project: Woodward must make his poems look like jottings, so he omits punctuation, starts poems mid-sentence and mid-idea, starts new sentences mid-line, and ends suddenly. And, as with all thoughts, the details are a mixture of sensory experience and surmise: “these three eggs are scrambled / they probably had three parents.” The most interesting poems begin with the unexceptional and arrive at something transcendent but no less common; there are many surprising day-to-day occurrences (“he asked how is / your chowder”; “tulips start to look all / fucked up after they’ve been / open for a while”) as well as flights of poetical thinking: “he could only have / been able to see a / tiny part of the world / from where we were sitting.” Of course, a book embracing the un-noteworthy risks becoming authentically boring, and a few of these poems are. When nothing interesting happens and there are no interesting thoughts, images, or turns of phrase to light the page, Rain begins to drone. But boredom is as true a mental state as heightened awareness, perhaps truer, and not without its place.
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