“YOU WILL REMEMBER afterward / that you were simple at first, / two-dimensional, static, unremarkable.” So begins the hypnotist speaking to his origami boat in Wayfare, Pattiann Rogers’s newest book of poems. Addressing his creation with tenderness (“my darling”), even as he is about to set his paper boat adrift in the sea, the hypnotist continues: “But see how I am folding you now, / carefully, slowly, this way, that, peering / and pressing. . . . I am turning you / upside down and back again, creating / depth for you, its rare hollow and yearning.”
That Rogers can so skillfully entrance and turn her readers “upside down and back again” in poem after poem, in book after book, makes her too a first-rate hypnotist, with an aim to make us more conscious of worlds within and beyond ourselves. Wayfare is a book of yearning and fulfillment, of folding and unfolding, of peering and pressing. Through Rogers’s curiosity, wit, boundless love of the world, and remarkable dexterity as a poet, we are altered.
Muscular verbs, lush lists, are among Rogers’s most reliable poetic tools, and they are appropriate tools as these poems seek to juxtapose and connect human forms of creativity with natural cycles of creation and destruction. Note that Rogers has apparently taken poetic liberty and turned the noun wayfarer into a verb for her title, perhaps wanting her readers to be more active, to have us wayfare.
Wayfare is also an experiment in personae. In these poems Rogers’s language joins company with a lover-prostitute, a monk, a painter infatuated with the color blue, a philosopher of verbs who declares, “my creator is seek, my wisdom is love,” a blind astronomer who imagines stars as eyes “giving sight to a blind universe,” a flower garden, the sound of rain (ting ting), the Eocene. In a poem central to the collection, Rogers embodies the voice of a holy spirit contemplating incarnation in such vivid imagery that we are easily persuaded that the summer choruses of katydid and cicada are equal to the sublime music of Handel’s Messiah.
This book contorts and transforms our senses. All depths — hers, ours, Earth’s — are jarred and deepened by its kinetic contents. The opening poem, “The Great Deluge and Its Coming,” is a powerful foreshadowing of an apocalyptic ravage of nature. We are all “tangled together and carried / roughly by the vicious / waters, thrown about, buffeted cruelly / into the racing surge.” In the midst of this surge here is a hypnotic poet speaking and singing; here is Rogers “slipping this candle / and its light into the heart of your belly.”