[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]
Wade Alexander has had a rough life. From the book jacket mentioning his alcoholic parents, to the forward by his wife, loosely chronicling their tempestuous, up and down relationship, to the numerous allusions in his poems to fighting, cheating, lying, abusing, etc., it’s obvious his life has not been easy.
In fact, if the old standard of poetry as therapy is to be believed, Alexander has written 200 pages of intense, self-illuminating, self-healing poems, and probably feels the better person for it.
Certain themes recur over and over throughout the poems, all laid out with the great feeling that comes from conflict: Strength versus weakness, truth versus lies, life versus death, love versus pain, reality versus illusion–all common here. True, after 200 pages of recurring themes, in recurring style, the poetry tends to blur together. But taken individually, Alexander has some very interesting and insightful poems.
Besides poems, nearly every page ends with a brief spark of philosophy, of wisdom, set off by space and italics. Sometimes these sayings follow up on the previous poem, sometimes not. For example, (p.170) “Look up and to no others./the sky is always yours.” Or on 187, “The tears we cry today/Water our growth tomorrow.” Amid poems mostly focused on the glass as half-empty, these pithy philosophies often provide the balance of a glass also half-full.
Most of Alexander’s work rhymes. The problem with dependence on rhyme is that the rhymes sometimes have to be coerced to carry out the meaning. Rhymes should be so natural, so smooth, that they are barely noticed by an intent reader who’s absorbing the meaning. When they get forced and a little awkward, then probably the meaning is too. On page 153, for example, “The reason that grew from such denial/Gave way to the Truth, it was quite a pile.” “Pile” and “denial”? Pile of what? The smoothness and vitality of the rhymes here is erratic.
At times, Alexander seems like a true Christian, knowing that all his earthly pain will be transcended when he’s with God in Heaven. (God save us all! p.145) Other times though, his religion reverts to older, polytheistic beliefs, referring openly to “the Gods” as in charge of life. “Do the Gods look down sad for what/They have done [?]” (p. 148) Perhaps another conflict in the author’s life.
The bottom line here though is that throughout 200 pages of intense writing, Alexander is wildly in love with his wife:
When I am gone,
I will live in the waves that
Kiss the beach forever
Or the wind that cools your face,
The sunset that stops your worries,
And the sun that warms your heart.
And when he writes of that love—without rhymes, he writes his best poetry.