July 3, 2008


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The Poetry Life: Ten Stories, Baron Wormser, (CavanKerry Press, 2008, 190 pages)
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

Baron Wormserís new book could easily become the stuff of novelty: ten monologues from ten different common folk all in different stations of life, contemplating a particular poet and his or her relevance to their situation. Itís the waitress who uses Sylvia Plathís stubbornness to get her through her shift. Itís the old man who overcomes the death of his wife by using the precision of William Carlos Williams. Thereís the teenager who encounters beauty for the first time through the vision of Elinor Wylie.

But the collection mostly works because Wormser is a crackerjack writer. He has a knack for slipping inside the head of his character. Thereís never a precious or false step to his characterís internal process, even if the situations seem a little academic. Also, Wormser knows his history. The stories are written in a folksy manner, appropriate for the character, but would work just as well if the characters were telling their stories out loud, in a classroom setting for example. Even the moments when the actual poetry is brought into the story donít feel particularly forced because Wormser isnít that concerned with story-thread. Itís the effect a poet has upon the narrator of the story that matters.

Hereís what Wormser has managed to pull off: ten short stories that work on their own, each told through the lens of a famous poet, each with something to say about the connection between that poet and everyday life.

Now, itís a collection and not every story is a knockout. The girl-power story about a moribund English professor finding her mojo through the words of Anne Sexton grows tiring. And the down-with-soulless-corporations story that uses William Blake seems off ó Iím not so sure Blake would object to capitalism.

But still, The Poetry Life: Ten Stories, works far more often than not both as an engrossing collection of stories and as a study in poetic history. B ó Dan Szczesny