Reviewed by Corinne Elysse Adams
Laura Madeline Wiseman’s Wake is no journey for the feeble-hearted. It is a powerful, often unforgiving ride, packed with the afterglow of images: death the imperious woman, the abusive mother, a cold, hard lover.
Wiseman’s collection begins with a series of sharp, meticulously crafted block poems. Her descriptions are so vivid they are almost physical, especially as death becomes lover and mother and leaves dark bruises wherever she reaches. There are moments, not infrequent, that are so visceral as to provoke a physical reaction from the reader.
The poems are continuously streaked with dark colors–bruise colors, blood, shadow. One line that I recall this in most vividly is from the poem “Or to release death”, where the narrator wonders:
Am I going to be covered in
bruises tomorrow? we ask, wondering if to let her out
there must be damage, the blue-black of ache, the start
of a low ringing in the ears (11).
The thing I think that really works in these poems is the constant small, seemingly tender or human motions of death amidst her propensity for brutal violence: “Think of the simple lessons, death says,/ pushing hair behind my ear.” These are the moments that really give shivers; they work on the reader, hooking us slowly into the tale. Then they deliver their blow:
…Death sings “Crazy
Mary” and slides the cool white of her hand up the
inside of my thigh. I have to drive, so I can’t stop her.
I’m wearing running shorts, so can’t stop her. I haven’t
been touched by anyone and so can’t stop her (18).
I was particularly drawn to the threads of fairy tales in the later poems, how they alluded to those familiar stories with a sharp-edged tongue─the Little Mermaid, Snow White, hints of mythology. I found myself reminded of Angela Carter and her own dark treatment of fairy stories. Prepare to be knocked over by lines like:
…Ariel lied. She
wasn’t mermaid or fish, just another voiceless woman
with amnesia. Anyone would forget an event that turned
every step into a feeling of knives (28).
Laura Madeline Wiseman’s Wake is not an experience to enter on a whim─it will swallow you, spin you about, leave you punch-drunk. But that is exactly the reason you should read it. Read it for moments like this:
…We stood there
in the blue belly of morning, with the evidence
everywhere. We wondered about justice, about our
sister’s dark jeweled rage, recalling suddenly what we’d
forgotten to tell (29).
Corinne Elysse Adams is a storycollector, writer, songstress, and teacher. She did her undergraduate degree at Sophia University in Tokyo, and received a master’s in poetry from the University of Edinburgh. She has lived and travelled all over the world, collecting stories and studying folk writing and musical traditions. She currently writes and performs music in Austin with quartet Oto Maru, and Americana/folk trio Full Moon Medicine.