WAKE UP CALLS: 66 MORNING POEMS by WANDA PHIPPSJULIE R. ENSZER reviews
Wake-Up Calls: 66 Morning Poems by Wanda Phipps
(Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, 2004)
Get Up, Stand Up, Don’t Give Up the Fight!
Wake-Up Calls is subtitled 66 Morning Poems; a number of other writers have suggested this book to me as a model for a writing practice: wake up early every morning and write a poem. Another creativity guru calls these morning pages. I’m intrigued by the idea, but I can’t do it. I have two large dogs and a wife. The dogs want to be walked every morning. They are masters to their own destiny and not interested in me capturing my morning poems. For this reason, I didn’t read Wanda Phipps’ Wake-Up Calls as soon as I should have.
The characterization of the book as illuminating a process for creativity does not do justice to this fine collection of poetry. It is not a book about writing exercises; it is not a collection of poems that are transparently responsive to writing exercise; it is a collection of sixty-six very polished poems as Wanda Phipps first book. While the “morning poems” moniker may describe the time or the process from which they were written, much more significantly it exposes the particular state of mind from which each of the poems evolves: early morning reflection where the filter of the superego is shut down and the poet experiences herself and the world in the most honest and raw form.
The emotional breadth and depth of Wake-Up Calls is impressive. These poems capture the fear and anxiety of young writers, as Phipps writes about the fear of working in an office in “Morning Poem #56,” “fear of office work/creeping into my psyche. . . .” Then later in the same poem, “running back and/forth with busywork/paperwork, redtape/procedure. . . “ In an earlier poem, “#47,” she writes, “forgot the poem/and the words/. . . .head filling with terrors/too many to mention.” Regret is another theme of the book, most fully explored in “Morning Poem #27,” with the listing of the poets “should haves” culminating in
I should have protested loudly
about some things and not at
all about others
I should have learned Spanish and German
I shouldn’t have been so easily discouraged
I should have listened to my mother
my life could have been so much better by now
Phipps’ range of emotions extends to the positive, hopeful and giddy, as well. In #52, she notes, “most famous poet/in the world/called me today” and in the following poem, she celebrates her birthday “full/of wine and tears/red poppies/coucous and broccoli.”
The marriage of form and emotion in this book is perhaps Phipps’ greatest accomplishment. She works with a very short line in each of the poems which makes them quite spare. Still they are packed with emotion. At their best, as in “Morning Poem #6” the form works with the rhythmic and poetic devices of poetry to create greater power and resonance:
These short lines work together with her generally very short poems give the collection overall a unity which then is accented by the sequential numbering of the poems. Wake-Up Calls is a text from which individual poems can be pulled, but it also works together as a unified whole, a significant accomplishment for a poet’s first book.
Wanda Phipps wakes up to writing each morning and through her writing wakes up to life. She shares this waking with us in Wake-Up Calls: 66 Morning Poems. More than a manual to morning, this is a book for understanding the hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties, and, ultimately, aspirations of living.
Julie R. Enszer is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. You can learn more about her work at www.JulieRenszer.com.