New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Marc Frazier reviews The Earth Avails by Mark Wunderlich

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Marc Frazier has widely published poetry in journals including The Spoon River Poetry Review, ACM, Good Men Project, f(r)iction, The Gay and Lesbian Review (forthcoming), Slant, Permafrost, Plainsongs, and Poet Lore.  He has had memoir from his book WITHOUT published in Gravel, The Good Men Project, decomP, Autre Cobalt Magazine and Evening Street Review and Punctuate (forthcoming). He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for poetry and has been featured on Verse Daily. His book The Way Here and his two chapbooks are available on Amazon as well as his second full-length collection titled Each Thing Touches (Glass Lyre Press) that has garnered numerous favorable reviews. His website is www.marcfrazier.org


The Earth Avails

Mark Wunderlich poems
Graywolf Press, 2014

Mark Wunderlich gives ample evidence of how the earth avails in his third book of poetry. The title itself is a statement of strong faith in a benign creator. These contemporary poems have their origin in a small book of German prayers. Some of them are meant to address specific circumstances as in “Prayer in a Time of Drought”. Most likely those with little faith in such a creator can still appreciate such work, but this is not a given. His skillful use of poetic language should convince the skeptical that there is a modicum of beauty and wonder here.

There is the accuracy and freshness of his descriptions of the natural world and its inhabitants. If he hasn’t read Mark Doty’s The Art of Description it would be surprising. His bees are reminiscent of Plath and his numerous creatures bring Noah to mind: vixen, raccoon, albino buck, mule, coyote, sand shark, ram, wild boar among others. The ending of “Winter Study” is an excellent example of Wunderlich’s skill at description of the natural world. The deer in the poem struggle to survive the winter in a world of predator and prey. The poem ends:

To know the winter

is to ginger forth from a bed in the pines,
to search for a scant meal

gleaned from the carelessness
of a killer.

The poem “Lent” asks,

Does the vixen sleep
alone in her den? Will she whelp

another litter of kits,
or will she keep her face

tucked in the stole of her tail
and rot away the summer…

The poet often addresses the creator directly in the opening of his poems. This creates a sense of God’s permanence and supremacy throughout the book.

Oh Tenderhearted, O Kindhearted,
you who have spared us from eternal servitude,

by torturing and killing your only child-
we know what you can do.
(“A Servant’s Prayer”)

Other poems such as “Prayer for a Journey by Sea” begin and continue with the use of the imperative voice, again speaking to the creator:

Look at me from your pitiless distance, look
as I give myself to the feral sea…

…press your bearded cheek to mine. Settle me
with the dark soil of your eyes…

Another example of this voice is from “Prayer for the Fruits of the Field”:

…and let us see

the abundant fruits as the fountain
and increase of the green shoots

of kindness awakened from dormant kernels
in our heads.

The reader must judge at times whether the poet’s language borders on or uses words that are a bit precious: “the green shoots of kindness.” The poet’s faith in this collection which is expressed through prayers, letters, and rituals is sincere if simplistic.

Wunderlich’s use of the poetic line is varied. The language of some poems is trapped in the stultifying and pondering seriousness of their themes. In the latter part of the book there are a few poems whose language has been freed and it is playful and alive. One such example is “January Thaw” which deals with a bee hive:

Once the ice is cleared

from the door of the hive
they begin to move their dead,
push their crumpled bodies out the door.

They form a little mound,
rounded forms a payment
to the sun climbing low

though promising a future.

Wunderlich’s poems seem to come alive with slightly shorter lines that increase the pace. “Lent” is a marvelous poem with perfect pitch.

Three months back the world
was undone, flesh starved

to sinew. We spent our days
swaddled in wool and down,

banking the plate-stove with cedar
to remake summer’s heat

on our outstretched hands.

Do the poems ask or answer any terribly important questions that add to our understanding of the universe we live in, or are they mainly careful descriptions of the natural world that God made for us? Wunderlich does not break any new ground here, but what he does is well done. The reader must decide if it is enough.




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