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John Wunsch
Author
Shadowgraph
Poetry
Reviews
In his wide-ranging first published book of poetry, Wunsch offers melodic examination of the human experience, often with an emphasis on nature and our involvement with it, in verses of varied form and subject. Much of the collection reflects on life as it’s lived, with inspired musings on farmland (“the knotted corrugations / of stalk and leaf”), cityscapes (“Chicago’s hand-stuffed cornucopia”), freezing winters (“runnels of glistening ice, / diamond-faceted like reticulated glassware”) and relentless heat (“The wind-sharpened / growl of summer.” At times, an ominous voice rises even from poems with apparently hopeful themes: “Saturday Street Music,” which concerns Mozart and a toy piano, closes with reference to “the unseen gaze/ and surveillance of an all-observant eye.” Elsewhere, Wunsch dares to dream beyond the everyday, incorporating relatable experiences with those that can only be imagined.

A scrupulous, beautiful vocabulary showcases the poet’s skill and depth. Though some of the pieces can be verbose, it’s clear the intention is wonder, not obscurity. That means the work is accessible enough that even inexperienced readers of contemporary poetry will find pieces like “Cryptarithm”—which finds the poet contemplating his choices in the penning of a poem—somewhat challenging but worth the effort, even if they do not apprehend the full richness of the allusions, structure, and metaphor. Readers from the Midwest especially will find much here familiar yet fresh: “our tracks have disappeared /in curls of buffalo hair and deerskin” he writes, in a paean to back-roads driving.

Wunsch deftly handles formulaic structures as well as freeform styles, exhibiting a firm grasp on poetic devices and deft use of ambiguity. He skirts away from revealing the deeply personal instead choosing, at times, to minimize, and in the same turn universalize, experiences. The spark of imagination that nature and the heavens nature inspire in the poet are worth the cover price, as his work invites us deeper in concrete imagery, sympathetic feelings, and fruitful metaphor.

Takeaway: A talented poet with a relish for nature and the human experience offers a strong, skillful poetry debut.

Great for fans of: Wendell Berry, Alice Oswald.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: B
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

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