57 pages, $10
Thom Wardâ€™s latest collection of poems, Etceteraâ€™s Mistress, isnâ€™t a book to merely breeze through. Like all good poetry, Wardâ€™s poems demand time and energy on behalf of the reader. The poems range in scope and form and include a mix of loose sonnets and dense prose poems that are at times philosophical forays and at times commentary on everything from war to the role of poetry. The book is marked with tender intelligence and clever insights that make navigating through the collection all the more worthwhile.
Whatâ€™s common throughout the collection is Wardâ€™s ability to mix philosophical statements with the personal. For instance, Ward opens the poem â€œGoldfinch, Cockroachâ€ with the insight â€œOnce in a while my soul exits this body/goes shopping for another house of flesh.â€ A few lines later, the speaker makes the observation that â€œThose with the most superfluous gadgets/cast the longest silhouettes, but not enough/to thwart ultraviolet rays.â€ He punctuates a poem filled with clever insights about consumerism and society with two lines that strike a more personal note: â€œWhat you didnâ€™t do, what I did/at the end all we can hope for are the right regrets.â€
Ward also offers some commentary on history and war. Â The poem â€œA Few Precautionsâ€ speaks out against the money spent on war and how easily we forget about the victims.
Children we have forgotten play among the rubble,
run out into fields where mines are still wired.
Air strikes and ground offensives put on credit,
inflation that helium balloon that will not burst.
In the same poem, the apathetic are not spared from sharp criticism: â€œTake a magic pill, and another, throw back any/chaser, lie down in the numb summer grass.â€
The collection also offers a few poems that comment on the role of poetry and language. In the poem â€œDonâ€™t Presume,â€ poetry is reduced to a mere mortal role. The poem begins â€œDonâ€™t presume this poem will advance pleasure or wisdom, glide/from surprise to surprise through a bevy of brilliant/ideas, succulent images that flow into some riveting epiphany.â€ And it ends with the lines â€œAnd the tiny/blue egg you thought would be revealed has vanishedâ€¦ Poems are like that/Lives are like that. Even gods.â€Â However, Ward does indeed challenge and surprise the reader, especially the readerâ€™s expectations for poetry and what it can or canâ€™t do.
A few pages earlier, Ward does acknowledge the power of language. The poem â€œPetites Dents, Petites Pattesâ€ begins with the confession â€œThe language has always been smarter than us.â€ Furthermore, language is compared to a cat that â€œslinks,â€ â€œpounces on invisible mice,â€ and curls its tail â€œinto a question mark.â€ What is especially impressive about Wardâ€™s collection is the language play and the way he juxtaposes images to make them work against each other or introduce another thought.
Ward also successfully created an eccentric cast of characters for his new collection. The poem â€œActually, Howeverâ€ features a mob informant who â€œfell, and fell hardâ€ in the East River after his cover was blown due to his attraction for the â€œblack-leather,â€ â€œblue-eyed mistressâ€ of â€œButch the Barracuda.â€ Ward even takes a foray into the female mind through the poem â€œExhilaration, Fluidity,â€ a prose poem whose female character keeps â€œdozens of boots and heels in her closet, and inside these/she keeps the thoughts of shoes sheâ€™s yet to purchase.â€ A few lines later, she â€œwatches how men try not to stare even/as they stare, and when caught shove their drink to their lips as if to/hide behind glass.â€Â But like some of the other characters in Wardâ€™s poems, the female character wants more from life and ponders quitting her job to take up thinking full time.
Etceteraâ€™s Mistress is a collection of poems that touch on the illogical and logical, poems that push and challenge language, while offering philosophical insights or commentary on consumerism, war, and other ills in our society. The characters found in Wardâ€™s prose poems and the juxtaposed images and insights in his sonnets are fresh, innovative, and memorable.
Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man. His poetry has also been published by Yes Poetry, The Portland Review, San Pedro River Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Word Riot, Chiron Review, and other journals and websites. He has an M.F.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University. Visit him at www.brianfanelli.com.