Liz Waldner, Trust, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2009
Reviewed by Karly Fogelsonger
ENCOUNTERS WITH THE UNKNOWN
Liz Waldner's Trust is preoccupied with what may be one of the most fundamental and timeless human predicaments: I am myself; a world of "other" that is not myself exists; the two must relate—or at least, coexist. A crevasse of differentiation gapes between the self and that outside the self (people, things—what we love, hate, or ignore), and Waldner sends her poems into the depths of this disparity like probes. For Waldner and her readers, much is at stake—at its root Trust embarks on nothing less than a quest to determine the degrees to which one can know oneself and the exterior world, and how one comes to that knowledge.
These poems do not make mild, polite inquiries into the nature of this world of "other"—they go nose to nose with the outside world. Waldner structures the book in five sections, and baptizes each with a sensory conduit as a title, such as "Mouth," "Skin." Her encounters with "the other" are as fresh and wide-eyed as a child's, and ordinary objects and observations are re-seen as subjects of wonder: the ant is "three beads," and pigeons "gurgle the sky in their lavender throats."
Aggressive and intimate interactions with that separate from the "self" populate these poems. Direct and unwavering, Waldner explores the unknown. Short lines and declarative or imperative sentences dominate, so we see Waldner is not afraid to "holler" at or interrogate the bounds of external reality, wearing fields and eating colors in order to know them. In some instances, the interaction between the "self" and the "other" is so intense that the definition of the roles begins to waver: a personified object becomes a metamorphosis for speaker and object. The speaker identifies in the terms of the external world: "my hands are the roof/ My hair their roots/ My knees the people." The investigation of the "other" results in an increase in knowledge of both the self and the world.
But what occurs inside the pages of Trust is not a painless familiarization of the foreign, and it is important to note that the outer world that Waldner engages is not benign. Frequently, the images are expressed through diction that implies danger and violence, and the "other" is armed with "claws," "toothed saws," "needles," and "toxic jackets." Even seemingly innocent sparrows, upon examination, are "plumbombs...lobbed...out of the sky." Waldner's encounters with the external reveal that the "other" is hostile and deceptive; truths barely emerge, and too often the appearances of reality are merely guises, "drawn down like shades/ So inside something/ Bad can happen." In spite of the speaker's direct address to the "other," we read a great deal of uncertainty, and the pages swarm with lies and vulnerable truths.
The malevolent images in Waldner's poems beg a question: why delve in to such a shifting, dangerous world at all? Why experience such a disingenuous external reality? And above all, why do so wholeheartedly, unabashedly, and unreservedly, as Waldner has done in these poems? Waldner seems to insist that we engage with the vivid and violent world because we must—because the world that is uncertain is the only world that exists. Waldner looks upon external world in all of its hazardous instability, and through her unflagging, unflinching interaction with the "other," suggests that such risk-taking may be the only way to discover one's own identity. The poems exhibit a deep and elemental bravery, plunging into the depths in a necessary leap of trust.