Field of Wanting. Poems of Desire
by Wanda Phipps, 2008

BlazeVOX [books]
ISBN 13: 978-1-934289-60-0

Review by
Svitlana Matviyenko



These poems are poems of desire. They reveal how desire flows, how it is sometimes interrupted and frozen, how it always recommences its natural rhythm, and how it never leaves us free.

Many thinkers have tried to rationalize desire, but few, if any, have succeeded. In Field of Wanting, Wanda Phipps attempts, at least, to impose a kind of order on this subject by structuring her book according to a variety of vocal and tonal registers. "Your Last Illusion," "Suddenly Everything," "Hours," "Zither Mood," "Rose Window," "Radical Doubt," "Womb Dreams," "Gray Fox Woman," and "Poem Coming"— each of these cycles register very different moods, emotions, sensations, thoughts and words—half-thought, half-said, whether whispered or yelled. The voice, one might argue, is her true medium. It is always present. Not only her voice, but the voices of others —yours, mine, theirs, ours. Almost like the ropes connecting broken phones, they render fragments of desire in a kind of 'voice mail' that is impossible to ignore.

First hour: "saying no meaning yes/ saying maybe meaning no/ considering this moment/ I must reconsider"; second hour: "if I were the Savior/ you would lose again... if I were a sailor/ you would loose again... if I were a saver/ you would lease again... if I were a saint/ you would leave again"; third hour: "I see a back of a head/ or a body/ that must be him/ but couldn't be/ I hold my breath/ and blink/ several times quickly/ before continuing"; fourth hour:"'what do you have to do to be an artist?"'; fifth hour: "it's raining today/ they say snow soon/ I need boots/ love those black barked trees/ bare and soaking wet/ branches like lace/ against Chelsea lofts/ my hour's over"; sixth hour: "what is a poem?/ beauty in language/ a woman hesitating over yams/ at Farmer's Market"; seventh hour:"So much to do, none of it important—except maybe eating and/ sleeping and watching the sunset./ There was something else I wanted to tell you but I've forgotten/ what it was"; eighth hour: "All I know is something more"; ninth hour: "I see the tops of dark lifeless trees/ and sky above the walls/ there is also a voice"; tenth hour: "'So many times I wanted to say I love you'/ body moving very slowly/ mind too quickly/ a creaking floorboard."

In this cycle, as well as in the entire collection, Phipps collages parts of conversations that she has heard or given birth to in her mind. Her poems of desire reveal what one might not always want to acknowledge: the randomness and inconsistency of wanting. It is this, I believe, that frightens us most in desire—the difficulty or, sometimes, the impossibility, of tracing it, of explaining it, sometimes even of accepting it (which is to say nothing of following it). Phipps creates a collage of unfinished sayings that, paradoxically, shape what is beyond words. Through a curtain of sounds and voices, she allows the reader to distinguish the unsaid, which is really another name for desire.

The title of the cycle, "Hours," points to the temporal dimension of wanting. Time as such is never equal to the time of a clock, and yet, it is somehow married to the clock's rhythms and measurements. Wanda's "Hours" are the hours of enunciation. It is an enunciation that requires hard work, certainly, which is perhaps why she allows herself to skip the eleventh hour, or to take a pause (a deep breath, perhaps?) and proclaim the requirements for lovers:

1. a bit stubborn and difficult
         but only enough to keep things exciting
2. should not adore foods that make me
3. no compulsive nail biting, toe tapping,
         finger snapping, knuckle cracking or
         nervous twitches
4. a highly developed sense of the absurd
5. mildly depressive or anxiety prone
         with optimistic tendencies
6. limited fanaticism
7. assorted adorable traits

Her slight humor makes us smile... and identify with the list.

When I read Wanda Phipps' poems, I can't help thinking about the gap between the moment of reading - the moment in which I read - and the moment when the poems appeared written down on the page. Since 'time' seems to be so important here, one notices the fact that the poems in Field of Wanting are not dated. According to Phipps, it is because they "belong to the moment of reading". The chronology of appearance is insignificant; what's important is the moment the book is released, or more importantly, the moment a reader opens it.

There are moments when the poet is absorbed by her thinking, by her vision, and by traces in her memory of a dream reality, which she carefully recreates in the form of her poems.

       ...I ate everything on my plate quickly without feeling I was eating at all, my real body somewhere else. And the sun blasted through the window behind him so that I couldn't really see his face—the details of his face elsewhere with my body—my mouth. Eating then seemed not as real as it had been in my dream the night before. Although in the dream I only looked at food I saw spread out on rows and rows of tables. But somehow looking became eating.

What fascinates me in this short fragment is the transition of one substance into another, occurring by means of some tricky medium that re-codes her thoughts, her sensations and her vision, translating them into words; it is precisely this kind of translation we call poetry.

It is also deeply self-reflexive. Phipps does not have a protagonist. The awareness of who she is does not leave her: Wanda Phipps is a poet writing a poem about writing a poem by Wanda Phipps. What is produced is the excess pleasure of a 'mise en abyme', which multiplies the presence of her "I."

"You're so beautiful" he said. He was stroking my back, the long slope of my

back. Somewhere there was a tape recorder playing. I heard the sound of my own voice reading a text I'd written. When my voice stopped, his continued. I was in a bright pink motel.

In Field of Wanting, Wanda Phipps experiments with forms. Each cycle presents its own intensity, speed, and rhythm. A mix of monologue with the sharp minimalism of non-traditional sonnets such as"Your Last Illusion", contrasts with the calm, reflective sonnetic stanzas of "Suddenly Everything". The airy verses of "Rose Window (or Prosettes)" are followed by the thick texture of the poems from "Radical Doubt." Such a variety of forms implies, perhaps, the numerous tongues of desire, which lie at the heart of human existence, its essence. It reaches for a lack, which is always and already here, in being.

True, there is a limit to how far desire can be articulated in speech. It can hardly be transcribed or translated. But in this collection of poems, Phipps turns this situation around and offers us a libretto that brings wanting to the surface. Her poetry is attached to both traditions: oral and written. The moment you read these poems, you realize Phipps' words will never lie flatly on the page: they vibrate and glow as only poems of desire can do. In the end, who can tell whether you expect the words of a poem to inspire emotion or whether you are looking for emotion for the sake of a future poem, for the sake of the moment on an empty Tuesday afternoon, when you feel this is the poem coming after a long time...

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