Connie Wanek is a poet whose careful eye misses nothing. As an oblique entrance into traditional lyric themes of loss, identity, nostalgia, and idealism, she often presents and then personifies common objects (peaches, butter, bees, horses, poodles); or begins with a common activity (jump-rope, teeter totter, red rover). Her technique is disarmingly simple, but quite effective.
Take, for example, this passage from "Poodles".
They're out of fashion, I think, poodles,
She begins with simple description and comparison, the word "accessories" for size and "topiary" for appearance without resorting to the banal realism of a list of details. In the next strophe she continues:
like certain other accessories.
The puppy posed in a tea cup
or the topiary of a show dog...
But poodles don't know they're ridiculous.
Of course this is a bit of fun, but it illustrates how deftly she can move from description to an observation about human nature in a way that is not heavy-handed. It's simply noted as a matter of course, and then she moves on.
They think they're still dogs, the way people my age
still think they're sexy.
And the book is filled with these small delights. A poem that begins with the trope of a hammer hitting a nail becomes a poem about work and old age; a poem that begins with camping quickly travels through the speaker's memory of a child's death and then uses a spiderweb conceit to get at the idea of both helplessness and strength. In poem after poem, we are located in the text by easily identifiable images and situations that are described with enough openness for the quick shifts and leaps of faith that follow.
To be honest, the images, at times, can be overly quotidian. Do we really need another poem using butter as a central conceit? Because we suspect that this will be used as a figure for nostalgia (and it is), it lacks a certain freshness and surprise. Personally, I'd prefer a little more variety and spice in image making but, then again, it is this home-spun quality to her work that gives it charm. Her poems really are well made and easily accessiblea book of poems you'd want a friend to read as proof that poetry is alive and well and not just for elitists.
These poems have been published in such notable publications as The Atlantic, Poetry, and the Great River Review, and are generally well crafted and accessible. Billy Collins has selected her work to be included in the Poetry-180 project. These poems do, as poet Louis Jenkins writes, "embrace and somehow transcend all the sad inevitabilities of life, with wisdom and joy."
View three poems from Hartley Field here
Connie Wanek was born in 1952 in Madison, Wisconsin. She lived on a farm outside Green Bay until the early 1960s when her family moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico in the Mesilla Valley. Since 1990 she has lived in Duluth, Minnesota with her husband and two children, where she works at the public library and restores old houses. Her first book, Bonfire, was published in 1997 by New Rivers Press after winning their New Voices competition. She has received fellowships and support from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and The Jerome Foundation, and won the 1998 Willow Poetry Prize.
The book can be ordered from retail outlets or directly from the publisher at:
Holy Cow! Press
Post Office Box 3170
Mount Royal Station
Duluth, Minnesota 55803