“The Roadmap to Escape the Inferno”: Jason Teal Reviews Candice Wuehle’s Poetry Collection BOUND

Too often presses aspire to publishing on the basis of reaching an audience and having an impact on letters—and everyone tries to sell books the same way—all while passing the claim that subverting our expectations and experiences comes second, or postmortem, to artmaking. Too often this quality of art goes unremarked on more deeply than writers being writers, someone wrestling with the human condition, a claim passed down or referenced as a cursory quality of literary writing, given experiences of the craft, whether writing or reading or listening to words in a chosen format.

But Inside the Castle is a reckoning, supplanting traditional notions of heretofore static impulses of readers. Publishers of ”difficult prose and prose poetry,” Candice Wuehle’s BOUND, then, from Inside the Castle, is a phantasmagorical, out-of-body exchange unlike anything previously rendered and marketed to the masses.

With Wuehle’s poetry as guide, the self becomes a paradigm of human experience, deconstructed and refurbished for limited display, only to be ripped open on site by a ten-inch blade like something out of Banksy’s wet dreams. There is ritual and oblivion, there is value in nuance and intention, and Wuehle’s poetry equips the reader with the roadmap to escape the inferno, if only temporarily. This too is not poetry for the faint of heart. The effect of walking away from the book can be likened to spellcasting. The world around us becomes blotted out, whisked away like some unassailable force with vague intentions. You are compelled to the finish line, until the very last page has been turned. Maybe BOUND captures a god complex, come to rescue or play with our frail bodies, like the cat to the mouse, the lens to the ant. Take, for example, this part of the book-length poem, a part which I’ll call “Confession, No. 10” for lack of a better identifier:

All moving meditation
All a border is defined by is definition
All night long and an officer never knocks
All I know is I am cut from narrative


IE, right before my skin falls off:

I’m in a ghost town that will make me understand pieces of an experience about to happen to America I won’t be able to explain. I’ll say that I saw a space where people tried to live

The book acquires autonomy in rereading, fracturing text unexpectedly with irregular line breaks and forms, a preternatural cry to the auspices of some unseen, uncaring authority, where living is not transcendental but guttural, visceral, and immediate. One page of the book poses a nervous hello to the reader, as if to ask are you still with me? Were you ever? To Wuehle, we are sweaty, breathy, indelicate things in the truest light, and her layered erasures and painstaking cursive (!) belie an unexamined reality, dripping with wax. “Important information has been omitted / because I cannot recall how it was ever included” Wuehle writes in “NoOne,” a self-critical examination of stations in life. In the poem, musings about history and ancestry intermingle with aspirations of the poet too routinely compared to Plath, reduced to easy commodities. There is something to be said about the rhetorical approach of the poet in all rooms, where language breaks with writing and becomes a tool, where the poet navigates disagreements the engagements of peers from this life:

Those exits had little to do with dying
and much to do with death. A student who is recurrently
afraid of placenta, sickness, weakness, even the word ULTRA asked me:
Why so many ghosts? Did you die, Candice—almost die? This student
writes her dreams. Death to do
with all things, I wonder that I went there
each time not to die but to answer death.
All I ever got was an awful, a lot about life.                                        NoOne asked me to write this poem.

Wuehle begins to carve out new expressions in poetry throughout the book, wielding the self as a planchette and the text as a sort of grounding wire, a tether to this world. The wire becomes stressed as the text works harder to record every transposed and fleeting thought on this plane. And we stare, open-mouthed, as a black hole of loss unfolds itself like an encroaching sun across the pages (literally). But this poetry is not automatic writing, no way, Wuehle has worked hard to compile an undead document of self-replicating derma. There is contact here with something beyond the typical dramedy of growth and maturity. Come find me, BOUND says, but there can be no buyer’s remorse. There is fun here, too, of a deathly-black, gallows kind: “I hear / culture say a serious date is coming soon to send / me a decade. Write a history of / your wrists. In Act III, I am uninterested / in ghosts. My mother has vowed to haunt me.” Wuehle incorporates the grotesque to expose the “cock-slime” of “lyric mess” what we understand as the debt of time on the mind and the expiration one worms toward, ultimately, at the end of their rope.

“I admire your dedication to life lived without a door. / I admire your dedication to life lived in a tank without a drain … I admire your insistence on living, upon enlarging, the wishes which will / not manifest, will not deliver,” Wuehle addresses us with in “Accounting For,” one of the final poems in BOUND, and the work of discovery catapults us headlong into orbit of the astral phenomenon. Even the final transmission, “[TESTING],” supposes a greater order to the whole, one rife with experimentation or manipulation beyond the pale, where, somewhat hilariously, “a scantron is drawn in dust. A scantron is drawn in ash.” Ordinary objects manifest with speaking roles like some demented, distraught Disney character wandering a harsh desert in search of no one, nothing: “PAPER: Write yourself the questions. / RED INK: Who will grade the answers? / NoOne: You will grade your own answers.” In the end, all we are left is the burning impression of grace, of desire, and once more, the answers squirm away into the grey pool from which they were first birthed. This is the ritual. We become unbound, untethered even in death, small deaths chipping away everyone regardless, amen. So the poet seems to ask why not push up against the negative space that binds us here?

BOUND, by Candice Wuehle. Lawrence, Kansas: Inside the Castle, 2018. $18.00, paper.

Jason Teal, Publisher & Editor of Heavy Feather Review, is a specter now living in the Little Apple of Kansas. He earned his MFA in fiction from Northern Michigan University in 2017, and was coordinating host of the 2016-17 Bards & Brews Creative Reading Series at Ore Dock Brewing Company. His fiction appears in Knee-Jerk, Vestal Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Matter Press, Hobart, and Quarterly West, among other publications. He currently hosts Driptorch Community Performance Series with Arrow Coffee Co.

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