One Morning— , Rebecca Wolff’s ambitious and sprawling third volume, struggles between impulses to speak plainly of what is versus the urge to “make it stranger / still.” Individual poems are characteristically spare, engaging an aesthetic conflict best articulated in the poem “Short Sight,” which declares “the cryptic, out of fashion / the Coptic, obsolete.” Although the poet’s responsibility to represent the world is never in doubt, the methods and tools which she might use are constantly reevaluated: “Porn as conversation,” the poem “An authorized biography of (little) JA” demands, “No more songs about love.” Instead, “A million metaphors” announces that “I use my pussy / correctly / a compass” before almost mechanically listing the details of
in my throat
up your ass
put pressure inside there
the shit out of
Stepping outside of the classic dichotomy of sacred and profane, Woolf recasts vulgarity as a necessary poetic strategy, and in a world saturated with sexual rhetoric the surprise of the poem is not its candor but the realization that the poem’s blunt devices—metaphor, representation—can “midwife” a poetics where bodies are as bare as the language used to describe them. One Morning— presents itself as a volume with nothing to hide, assuming intimacy with both the speaker and the larger poetic tropes Wolff compromises. Love is what “you must contend with” when negotiating subject matter, as explored in “The Curious Life and Mysterious Death of Peter J. Perry.” “Who will remember Peter J. Perry / his non representative life” the poem asks, answering “there is no reason that he must be remembered.” Rather, it is “love that draws him out,” in sprawling lines that chart the minutiae of Perry’s family tree, where he stored his Coke Rewards, his final days. “It’s not important that you be convinced of Pete’s importance,” Wolff writes, but the poem demands we approach Perry with the same intimacy as every human subject.
“The poet will do what the poet will do,” writes Wolff, articulating the privilege of the twenty-first century poet who finds herself “in fancy / venue or classroom or focus / group.” By highlighting the seemingly insignificant, Wolff’s alternative vision of the poet in the world reorganizes around our lived lives, which, these poems show, deserve the same linguistic energy and attention as any lofty abstraction.