Love at the End (BlazeVOX, 2021), Wade Stevenson’s newest book of poems, is a continuation of what the poet does well: exploration of self, spirituality, love, trauma, and creativity through lyrical poems. In this collection in particular, the primary strength is a captivating voice-driven energy that fuels the poems and creates a steady momentum that keeps the reader engaged all the way through. In Love at the End, Stevenson also excels at image-making, rhyme, rhythm, and meditation that all contribute to the complexity of the poems.
“Being is so Extensive” is a particularly strong poem because it addresses a “you” with intimate care as it explores spiritual/philosophical ideas about how the self contends with existence. Here is the first part of the poem:
Being is so extensive and multiple today, why make
An encyclopedia of everything that is?
The real is what is good. Don’t contaminate yourself
By trying to say everything at once.
Just go on acting like a mad man
Until you break the coffee cups.
The combination of image and statement here is quite interesting and complex. The speaker starts by asserting that the mere act of being is heavy and multidimensional and then asks: “why make / An encyclopedia of everything that is?” This suggests that the “you” being addressed seeks to classify the notion of self in a form that can be known in a concise way, but the speaker goes on to say: “The real is what is good. Don’t contaminate yourself / By trying to say everything at once.” Here, there is the sense that the person being addressed not only wants to classify the self, but explain the self in a definitive way. Again, the speaker counteracts this by suggesting: “Just go on acting like a mad man / Until you break the coffee cups.” Lunacy becomes the solution to overthinking—let your mind go wild and engage in a little destruction. The primary images: “encyclopedia” and “coffee cups” are specific but work against each other particularly because the coffee cups are being broken. Both are containers: one holds knowledge and the other holds coffee, but to break the coffee cups is to get a physical release. Once this is done, the speaker continues: “The only recourse / Left is to move into the realm of the mind.” This seems contradictory, but by going into the mind rather than trying to catalogue and explain it is an opportunity to understand the psyche better. Here is the rest of the poem:
Forget the dangerous mixtures, lies
And their hard-edged policies. Stay away
From the amphitheater of fear. You’re able to walk
Both on water and land. Which was inconceivable
Before today. You can even fly high
On your poet’s ink wings. If you forget the directions
Just start to breathe, accept the monstrous
Beauty of just being here.
As the journey into the mind begins, the speaker suggests to “Forget the dangerous mixtures, lies / And their hard-edged policies, and “Stay away / From the amphitheater of fear” because lies and fear are counterproductive to ascension, which seems to be the goal. After this, the poem opens up and becomes less thought-oriented as the speaker says “You’re able to walk / Both on water and land” and “You can even fly high / On your poet’s ink wings”—these lines bring in a spiritual/poetic/metaphoric quality and they are aspects of the self that should be embraced: an imaginative exploration of the self as a deity and an artist. At the end, the speaker gives the best advice possible: “accept the monstrous / Beauty of just being here” which speaks to the notion of being present in the realm of the mind in all of its glorious massiveness as a way to achieve enlightenment—to inhabit existence without needing to analyze it or destroy it.
“Silk is a Verb” is another impressive poem in the collection because it shows the ways in which Stevenson is able to push himself creatively. Here is the first part of the poem:
I silk you. You silk me. We grow in silk together. We silk each other
Seeking to stretch the silk out, letting it unwind into endless silken days
When we are old and sick and yearn to return
The silken web will accept us back into our silken home
So it was we had traveled in realms of silk
Our lives enmeshed in silken dreams
Our past lives fleeing from us, silken shadows
The word silk is used in various ways throughout the poem, which makes it fun to read, but what makes the poem profound is how silk becomes a descriptor for intimacy: “The silken web,” “our silken home,” “realms of silk,” “silken dreams,” and “silken shadows” all point to a deeper connection the speaker shares with the beloved. “When we are old and sick and yearn to return,” “accept us back,” “Our lives enmeshed,” “and “Our past lives fleeing from us” indicate a loose narrative of a transcendent (and possibly divine) relationship. The poem gets even deeper and more intimate:
When we loved our bodies blossomed the one word that bound us
The only word we had learned together, syncing it in silence
Slipping, sliding, into the softness of the silken sound
So purely and absolutely, as if silk were present at the beginning
And there was never a need for any other word
Silk was our flesh, silk our life, silk our beautiful sin
We took it as far as silk could go
Until at the end silk sucked us in
Here, silk becomes a metaphor for eternal love/devotion between two people and this is the definition of silk that holds the most weight in the poem because it is the divine word that binds them together: “We took it as far as silk could go / Until at the end silk sucked us in” is a beautiful ending to the poem because not only does the speaker and the beloved take the journey through eternal love to its most extremes, they also become eternal love itself as they are pulled into it.
A few other poems in this collection that stand out are “What Was It Like?” which talks about not being able to consummate love with the divine in ways that are playful and creative and “To My Much-Missed Bitch” which is a love poem that contains a playfully gritty edge to it. Stevenson is a wonderful poet to read for those who are seeking poetry that is down-to-earth and human, but utterly spiritual and meditative. His work is not only inspiring on a poetic/creative level, it is unique in how it captures the essence of a poet’s desire to achieve enlightenment and transcendence through romantic love and through exploring aspects of the self that are both dark and light. Love at the End is similar to his previous book of poems Going Head to Head in its aims to employ lyric poetry as a way to explore the psyche and psychic realms—ultimately, this is what makes Stevenson’s work so interesting and compelling.
January 24, 2022