Anne's Reviews > Silent Actor

Silent Actor by J. Michael Wahlgren
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's review
Jun 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: poetry
Read from June 17 to 21, 2012

J. Michael Wahlgren's first collection of poems is cohesive, vivid, deeply felt, musical, and playful with language.

The poet blends narrative and lyric to unravel complex observations on the part of the speaker: the topics span a wide range of life experience, from adult romance to childhood games of spin the bottle (one of my favorite poems), and the speaker, as the title suggests, stands as an actor in all of these life dramas, letting the world's stage stun and inspire.

I was most impressed by the surprising language play throughout the book: Wahlgren has lines that stick with you, that you must read over and over for their originality. In one poem, "Fame is a Virtue," Wahlgren twists a common cliche by following with a first line that says "Patience is a bar stool, settling in, watching the game." These lines tickle the reader with their cleverness, but also reveal deeper meanings of human experience: in this case, patience is only obtained through distraction (and ironically the distraction is to look at fame on the television, the ultimate ideal.) In just a few witty lines, Wahlgren manages to surprise the reader and offer some interesting tongue in cheek social commentary as well.

Another merit to this book is the musicality of it. Often times, Wahlgren is able to play with rhyme and rhythm in inventive ways. His rhymes, like his language, are always surprising--never trite or simple. In "New Waltz," the lines dance back and forth across the page, and the rhymes aptly carry the music of the dance as the speaker declares "Come with me/into the arms of America./ We can set free/the lobster traps, or reel in a fish/ and return it to its place of origin./We can breathe/ the fresh sea air,/dedicated/to an inner waltz, a push through." The music in this is stunning, but equally stunning is the meaning behind it: the speaker has trumped our expectations of a literal dance and revealed the intriguing world of the inner dance of us all as we search for a beloved, as we dream freedom through picturing the captivity of other things. The forms of Wahlgren's poems serve to further embody the meaning wrestled from the complex stage of the Silent Actor.

Several tropes reappear in the book: namely that of the waltz and the origami. I found that their reappearance and fresh metaphors added cohesion to the collection and complicated the poems in interesting and enigmatic ways.

In short, Wahlgren's voice is fresh and vivid, both witty and serious, well worth a read. Also, be aware that J. Michael Wahlgren is the editor of Gold Wake Press and has good taste to boot! I have yet to pick up a Gold Wake title that I did not enjoy. Check out what that press has to offer!
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05/14/2016 marked as: read

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