Dear Dr. Poetry

L. Lamar Wilson
Carolina Wren Press, February 2013
79 pages

Dear Dr. Poetry,

I don’t expect you to understand me, because no one does. My sorrow is darker than a thousand layers of guyliner. I just wanted you, as the foremost expert on poetry, to confirm my isolation—the way my own poetry does.

—Empty Malaise of Towering Woe Encompassing Every Night

Indeed, I don’t understand the nature of your malaise, EMO TWEEN, but like E.L. James authoring a book on how to write, I’ll take a wild stab at it; I’m certain that poetry (other than your own) is just what you need.

As I consider your problems—vast as they are—I’m thinking of L. Lamar Wilson’s debut, Sacrilegion. This young poet blurs the line between personal and public history as a means of reconciling his identity with a society prone to ostracizing, attacking, and trying to change those who are different. He draws not only from his personal struggles—whether as a man of mixed race, a gay man in a conservative town, or a man afflicted with Erb’s Palsy—but also from more global roots. Aretha Franklin, Terrance Hayes, James R. McGovern’s Anatomy of a Lynching, and George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess are just a small sampling of this book’s diverse influences.

In “Ars Poetica, Nov. 7, 2008,” Wilson melds Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America” with his experience of being “the brown, the white, the sometimes blue”:

I am often left alone with my thoughts in my one good hand,
with this charge to keep, this god to glorify.
I am mastering the power of positive thinking.
I have had three decades of practice. I learned the power
of the mind when I ignored my left arm, hanging limp,
like a tattered flag in my pledge of allegiance…

Wilson creates a song that’s uniquely his own while also building strong bridges outward: “See, I am not afraid of facing you, or me, / or the notion of we the people anymore. / […] I am the what-you-are.”  Although the poem is determinedly in the first person, the speaker never sounds selfish or self-obsessed. Instead, he is one voice in a multitudinous chorus.

Wilson doesn’t just echo others; he places his voice in opposition to traditions of oppression. In “I Am Black & Comely,” a sonnet centered on the titular Solomon quote, the speaker points out that in the King James Bible, “a but abuts / comely, making black less so, palatable.” The speaker is critical of Solomon’s descendants who’ve come and gone since that small but significant change: “his progeny—with as much sense as he, / & so much of it opaque in our holiest of holy / scripts—dare not question the sleight / of James’ God’s scribes’ pens.”

The big question at the end of the sonnet—“O will we ever know how beautiful we are?”—speaks to Wilson’s desire to bring out the beauty in those who seem to have been born sacrilegious. He makes connections between himself, people like him, people unlike him—and perhaps you should take similar steps into and out of yourself, EMO TWEEN. When you find yourself absorbed in personal strife, you can often take solace in finding that yours is part of a larger story.

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