You can get lost in Liz Waldner's poems: lost in the best ways—
enchanted, ecstatic, caught up in
a high-speed verbal world—but also lost in ways
that cause distress. . . [Her] verse, with its rapid changes of subject,
its overlapping figures, and its raw edges, pays constant homage
to the delights of the senses. . . .
~ Stephen Burt*
I first learned about Liz Waldner's poetry through a poetry-loving friend, who quoted from Waldner's remarkable collection Trust, the winner of the 2008 Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Competition. Waldner's prolific. Her first published volume, Homing Devices (O Books, 1998; available through resellers via Amazon), came after nearly two decades of writing. Her second, A Point Is That Which Has No Part (University of Iowa Press, 2000) was awarded the 1999 Iowa Poetry Prize and the 2000 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. Waldner also has published Play (Lightful Press, 2009), Saving the Appearances (Ahsahta Press, 2004), Representation (Quale Press, 2002), Dark Would (the missing person) (University of Georgia Press, 2002), Etym(bi)ology (Omnidawn Press, 2002), and Self and Simulacra (2001). Both Dark Would and Simulacra also won poetry prizes.
Ohio-born, Waldner grew up in rural Mississippi. She holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and mathematics from St. John's College and a M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She's received numerous grants and fellowships, including one from the McDowell Colony. Her intelligence and love of language are everywhere evident in her poems.
I have to admit that I don't always "get" all of Waldner's poems; some can seem at times heavily metaphysical, and some test your ability to see through metaphors at work within metaphors. Others (and this is not a bad thing) are "weird" in the sense of "phantasmagorical" and "unearthly" (see the cover of Trust, for example, to get an idea of what I mean). Frankly, though, reading reviews of Waldner's books is an exercise in weirdness all its own. Read her poems without reading any reviews first (except this one, of course).
What I particularly like about Waldner is how she transforms the ordinary into something highly visual, as a picture immediately available to hold in mind: An extra-long leaf of grass / pretended to metronome (from "Annunciation) and Through my hair I watch pigeons walk the green roof. / They gurgle the sky in their lavender throats. (from "Shame"). I also admire how Waldner works with the sparest of details to build up to and leave us with certain truths that we all recognize, if not acknowledge:
My heart's had many houses.
In this house, too, I room and mother me:
I have baked me a heart out of clay.
~ From "Another House on Mother's Day"
Sometimes, you just have to laugh at what Waldner comes up with:
because well-versed in verbs,
the world became a vestry
for vessels of wrath,
wraps of wasps and nettles
~ From "Apostrophe Antiphonal"
She delights in words and wordplay, sometimes causing us to wonder at words we've never imagined, such as voragovorous in "Apostrophe Antiphonal", let alone thought to use, especially in a poem, such as dingo-indigines in "The Au Pair Girl's Speech".
There's a lot to appreciate in Waldner's poems: perception and deep insight, immersion in the physical (her poems in Trust are allocated to the categories eye, skin, mouth, nose, ear), a seeking to get at understanding of self and life, openness to discovery and to being exposed, lyricism, a highly fertile imagination, astuteness, the unmistakable craft with which she writes her poems.
The staircase is a good place to cry.
You sit at the bottom
and all its dark climbing stands on your head,
its many indifferences
shoulders the better to cry on.
Touching street light lying in squares
on the stairs, you sob,
"I wanted to pick up light."
But you are myopic
and wanted to blow your nose.
~ "Point, Counterpoint"
You'll find Waldner's poetry in many, many literary magazines and poetry journals, from The Cortland Review and The Iowa Review, to Poetry, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Shenandoah, 13th Moon, Weber, and The Massachusetts Review.
All poetry excerpts © Liz Waldner. All Rights Reserved.
* Quoted from a review by Stephen Burt of Waldner's Trust, in Believer, October 2009.
Quoted lines of poetry, unless otherwise noted are from Trust.
You can find more than a half-dozen of Waldner's poems at Poets.org.
Selections from A Point Is That Which Has No Part are available on GoogleBooks. A preview of Trust also can be found there.
One of the better reviews of Trust is here. A review of Play is here. A good review of Homing Devices and an excerpt are here.