By: E.E. Wade
Reviewed by: Bruce Alford
Blue Rooster Press, 2010
The novelist John Updike, who died in 2009 just shy of seventy-seven, when asked, “How have your aspirations changed?” responded, “The urgency of my youthful news presses less groaningly.”
Remove the word “less” from Updike’s statement, and you get a sense of the voice and tone of this debut collection of poems, eyestodewhurld. E.E. Wade, “the young artist,” has something urgent to say. However, she tempers her enthusiasm with straightforward self-assessment. “Like most writers with some sense,” she states, “I observe, I people watch, and I guess at what life really is because I don’t quite know yet.”
Readers of all stripes should find something to their liking within this collection of seventy-one poems. Topics include family, race relations, pop culture, and writing. Many concern the troubles of youth: relationships, social media, and school. (Wade wrote eyestodewhurld during her senior year at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham.)
Her predominant style resembles literary prose. She downplays line breaks, meter, and rhyme in favor of emotion. For example, in the poem “Protesting for the Sake of It,” she breaks lines on articles and prepositions rather than on significant nouns and verbs:
I once dreamt that I had set myself on fire in
front of the White House. I climbed over the
surrounding Gates and laid a burgundy cushion down on….
These poems lend themselves to performance. They bustle, dart, and dash. Wade’s language is often angry: “Pow. One-two. One-two. Whitie!” And it’s fast. Wade often conveys this urgency by jamming words and syllables, as in the title eyestodewhurld.
Her poems are like “uppers,” stark, provocative, and shocking. The aforementioned speaker dreams of setting herself on fire in front of the White House. In another poem, a child blacks out the eyes of her Barbie, “The perky breasted bimbo….” In yet another, a man threatens to commit suicide by leaping into a shallow creek. He asks, “Ain’t you gonna stop me?” The speaker tells him that he is afraid of death: “If he / weren’t, he’d have chosen deeper water….” The man and we, the readers, swallow the admonition as if it were a spoon of bitter tonic.
Many of the poems are like this, provoking contemplation while moving quickly. In “Death of Dogs,” a poem that ponders the value of life, the rate of movement builds to a crescendo, so much until the poem’s rapidity becomes as solid as scud left behind a missile. The speaker, seeing a dead dog curled at the side of the road, gets out of her car to examine the carcass: “I placed a cold palm / on its side, felt the sharp edges of lacerated rib and / jumbled up insides pressed against my skin.” When the speaker stands and looks around, she sees the bodies of hundreds of dogs littering the streets and stacked in piles on top of each other. A shopkeeper sweeps carcasses, along with cans, wrappers, and other trash. He says, “Dogs is dogs. We all die. So why shouldn’t they…?” The poem ends on a tear, in all senses of that word—swift, sad, and achingly urgent.
Novices will welcome the plain language in this debut effort, while sophisticated readers should appreciate the book’s variety. Feb. 2011
Bruce Alford is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama in Mobile.
Editor’s note: E.E. (Erika) Wade won the B.T. Thompson Senior Portfolio Scholarship in the 2009 Alabama High School Literary Arts Awards and Scholarship Competition, sponsored by the Alabama Writers’ Forum.