"Let no lip, shoulder, hip, go untasted tonight. Let no one be unscathed.
And as you close the door & fold yourself in sleep against another
look for a moment at the empty stretch of dark between heaven
& earth: someone is missing from the world . . . "
The Body Distances is filled with long, limber, nimble poems at once ecstatic and elegiac. These poems are odes to the miraculous embedded in the everyday, in which "the unlikely continues / to dovetail with the present."
About the Author
Mark Wagenaar is a doctoral fellow at the University of North Texas in Denton. He is the 2014 winner of the Pinch Poetry Award, the New Letters Poetry Prize, and the Mary C. Mohr Poetry Prize, as well as the 2013 winner of the James Wright Poetry Prize, the Poetry International Prize, and the Yellowwood Poetry Prize. Wagenaar served as the University of Mississippi's 2014 Summer Poet in Residence. His debut manuscript, Voodoo Inverso, was the 2012 winner of the Felix Pollak Prize. His poems have been published or accepted by the New Yorker, 32 Poems, Field, Image, Subtropics, Ninth Letter, Washington Square, Shenandoah, and the Missouri Review.
Table of Contents
The Body Distances II (Still Life with Everything in the World) 3
Goat Hour Gospel (Such Salvage) 5
Midwest Blues Leave Me Shining 7
The Nameless City 9
The Big Secret 11
A Geisha Looks Beyond (Self-Portrait in Brushstrokes) 15
Insomnia: Triptych 17
Blue Arabesque 19
Speak, Again 21
Black Gondolas 22
October Sketch (Cirque du Nada) 24
A Cairn of Fine Bones: A Plea 26
II Scherzo: Love Songs & Resurrections
Exit Plan M Thistle Envy (Sort of a Love Poem) 32
Superman's Love Letter to Kryptonite 34
1 Aubade with French Horn 35
2 Aubade with Three Dreams (Self-Portrait with Ghost Bride) 36
3 Aubade Macabre (Theme from Goethe) 38
Midday Constellations 39
For Whom the Resurrection Is the Full Moon Rising 41
Small Graces 43
Elegy I Pray Is Not an Elegy (The Wound) 49
Noir Nocturne (Small Town Impromptu) 50
That the Unified Field Theory Must Somehow Include Donald Trump's Hair 51
Abel, Almost Asleep in the Field 53
Questions after a Mass Grave Is Found Outside Srebrenica 54
The Oddsmaker (The Little Book of Fate) 56
Last Sketch 57
Broken Sonnets: Elegy & Near-Elegies 58
Ghost Hour Gospel 61
A Gospel of Hands & Breath 63
A Brief Report on Cosmology, Fate & Human Frailty 69
A Midwest Suite:
1 Midwest Nocturne (The Little Book of Our Leaving) 71
2 Shake & Bake Blues (Midwest Blues II) 73
3 A Phone Line to Seven Generations 76
4 Midwest Impromptu (Midwest Blues III) 78
Shoe Logic 80
Three Songs from the Book of Nocturnes: I. Nocturne with Ghost Violin (Song That Is No Song) 82
II Little Song 84
III Nocturne with French Horn 85
Kyrie: Broken Sonnet with Coming Years 86
In Another Life / Marie Curie Steps Forward from the Shades 87
Glean (Stubborn Ode) 89
Freefall (The Body Distances I) 90
What People are Saying About This
As with those poets who seem to be his touchstones Larry Levis, Charles Wright, and Albert Goldbarth come to mind Mark Wagenaar's poems are capacious, restless narratives and lyrics that are both emotionally nuanced and remarkably fluent in their ability to juggle allusions that range from Dante to Donald Trump, from Madame Curie to Lex Luthor. Yet the erudition of his poems always arises from urgency rather than from the desire for an easy tour de force. As the title of his collection suggests, Wagenaar's poems are suffused with an acute sense of our mortality, but they are also, in their ambition and relentlessness, oddly celebratory. The Body Distances is a book to savor and return to.
Long lines and graceful, extended syntax that are on the far side of what is sometimes inadequately called poetic prose; big, inspired leaps from one end of the metaphor to the other; a style rather beyond the merely elliptical yet never falling into the discretelydiscontinuous; a meaning-making imagination that vibrates with semantic energy; and a young mind that nevertheless deserves the adjective, 'learned.' These are only a few of the attractions of the brilliant Mark Wagenaar's The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising), a book of poems displaying such originality and mastery that it will, I suspect, be discussed and imitated in MFA workshops and advanced poetry classes throughout the country, probably preceded by the instructor's remark, 'This, folks, is how it's done.'
Mark Wagenaar's poems are brimful of the world generous, fluid, packed with an avid music, with praise and astonishment. In poem after poem, Wagenaar renders a sense of 'a still life with everything in the world,' not in an attempt to freeze-frame the moment but in order to register everything in the moment, in all its registers, as the moment passes. Therefore, The Body Distances is both ecstatic and elegiac. These are odes to the miraculous embedded in the everyday, in which 'the unlikely continues/ to dovetail with the present.'
Charting how our bodies break and bridge toward spirit, Mark Wagenaar's The Body Distances traces what our flesh endures from sleeping pills, garbage dumps, coal dust, whiskey, and muons, yet manages to find mercy in a Whitmanesque power to marvel at a mutilated world. This is an 'all too human' book by a marvelous poet right when we need it the most.
Gustav Mahler, whose four-part, unfinished tenth symphony provides thematic armature for Mark Wagenaar's The Body Distances, once admonished 'die Symphonie muss sein wie die Welt. Sie muss alles unfassen' ('the symphony must be a world. It must embrace everything'). Wagenaar possesses a prodigious, sonic, ekphrastic, symphonic imagination equal to Mahler's manifesto (Mahler also said that 'If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music'). It feels that all of life is offered here, in a stirring range of tonal and formal registers from Adele to de Chirico, Donald Trump's Hair to the Cloud of Unknowing, Mid-western pick-up truck meth labs to Pagliacci, elegiac sonnets to polka troubadours, baseball stats to the ecstatic ledger of the Book of Little Miracles. To shout-out to a clear ancestor of this book, Walt Whitman: Mark Wagenaar is a kosmos, and his book replete with 'everything in the World' stitches a host of luminous, grace-buttressed bridges among their, among our, distances.