The Courier’s Archive and Hymnal
Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Sidebrow, 2014

The Courier’s Archive & Hymnal is the third book of Wilkinson’s No Volta pentalogy, although familiarity with the first two books (Selenography and Swamp Isthmus) is not necessary to appreciate it. Taking Bashō’s narrow road as its Virgil, Wilkinson guides us through a forest of splintered prose, both dreamlike and maddeningly strange:

A long weird sleep under dripping boughs, my

breath a gold cloud puffed into rabbits. & from

my dream, the token used for a bathtub stopper

As early as his second book of poems, the pre-pentalogy Lug Your Careless Body Out of the Careful Dusk, Wilkinson displayed a flair for both fragmented lines and broad slabs of prose, forcing his readers to connect the dots, to form his or her own story out of cloudy, non-linear language. Amid our endless debates about “accessibility,” it’s invigorating to read a poet who makes no concessions, who compels us to make (and trust) our own interpretations time and again over the course of multiple books.

Drawing on his own work as a filmmaker, Wilkinson fills the page with blocks of text that suggest “scenes” more than they suggest traditional, stand-alone poems. That the suggestion of mise-en-scene is a conscious choice is evident early in the book, in the section “Day for Night for Night”:

A scene before my eyes: lake mist over three girls

triangulating a tarp to wrap their mother, dead


Later, in that same section, the perspective, and our attention, veers:


The train conductor stutters at a silvery flask, &

night unloads its poisonous spores. I touched the

door’s window with my glove off. Pigeons in the

spikes anyhow. A woman reading “Passers-by”

with an eye shut, her wrist marked blue. Snow

comes early for the city streets, & the trees yield

to what signals?

Although narrative is hinted at and characters are introduced, often in vivid detail, what lies underneath remains a mystery. The three girls “triangulating a tarp” remain unnamed and unknown. We never learn why the woman reading “Passers-by” has her wrist marked blue. In this way, Wilkinson’s poems self-annotate and can be read as if they were notes in the margins of a screenplay, each page setting the scene anew. It is there, on that level, that the book works best: Positing re-reading as reinvention and letting every page, or even every line, allow itself to be opened, viewed, and examined in boundless ways.