Love, Laura

Laura Wetherington master class
Laura Wetherington Master Class for the International Writers’ Collective

Laura Wetherington is a poet, teacher and editor. Last month, she gave a Master Class for the International Writers’ Collective on poems from her latest collection, Parallel Resting Places. I got to sit backstage during this class and listen in on the conversation. So this book review is mostly eavesdropping on the way a poet like Laura thinks.

She starts by saying that the poems in Parallel Resting Places are hybrid works, shading between poetry and prose, narrative nonfiction and the experimental. She tells us she’s become a poet because writing is her way of processing the world. To document her experience of a miscarriage or to insert herself into a conversation as a feminist.

These are big words. My head is starting to spin. I’m wondering if I’m smart enough for Laura and her work.

Fake translations

Not because Laura puts on airs. She is delightfully self-deprecating, for example, when she explains her concept of fake translations. It all starts with the fact that she’s always loved the sound of French and has long harbored a desire to translate her French peers into English. The problem is her French is really bad.

So if a poem in Parallel Resting Places is labeled as after a French poet like Dominique Fourcade, it doesn’t mean it’s a translation. It’s what happens after Laura takes a quick read, sees what grabs her and turns it into a homophonic translation or a riff on mood or a flight of fantasy somehow related to the French source’s biography. Like so.

My body, made
from language,
touching your tongue.
Every word in
an accidental affair.
I blame
the heat of the sentence.
I blame each chance—
a broad opening
in common with inhalation—

Laura Wetherington, “The body free falls through history, memorializing the seventies” in Parallel Resting Places (Parlor Press 2021)

No more bird poems

Ever since I came out publicly as a bird hater, birds crop up in virtually everything I read. So, too, in Laura’s collection. They appear in various guises: as aerodynamic arrangements, ovaries or a symbol of good luck. Laura quotes the late great poet Mary Oliver as saying: A poem should always have birds in it. No, no, no! Unless you do it the way Laura does.

Sometimes, like outside of a poem, no bird appears.
No bird is present, for instance, on the floor
of the stock exchange. No bird is present
on corporate jets. No bird helped revise U.S. tax law.

From “No More Bird Poems”

Love letters

Situated in the heart of this collection, among the fake translations and the experimental poetry, is a collection of three letters. Scattered elsewhere are two more. For me, these epistolary poems form the emotional core of Parallel Resting Place.

Dear Hannah,

When we move to the woods to start our free skool, we’ll take a big screen TV and some way of streaming ESPN because, you know, college football and women’s basketball. I’ve been hoarding extension cords just in case not all the buildings have power. (Our school will have buildings, right?)

Remember the guy from Portland, Maine who camped out in a crosswalk dressed as a tree? He’s totally invited. How did he explain it? He wanted to understand how his performance would “impact people’s natural choreography.” His tree performance is to nature poetry what the History Channel is to history. I love it so much. But seriously, do you think he’s read Cage’s writings?

When I tried to explain to my husband how I’m not heavily invested in nature poems, I said, “I don’t really need to gaze into a deer’s eyes, you know?” and he replied, “What if it’s a queer deer?” and I’ve never loved a man more.—He comes too.

Love, Laura

“Dear Hannah”

Who is Laura?

The inclusion of these epistolary poems gives rise to an audience question. Who is the real Laura: the author, the narrator or the person who signs these letters Love, Laura? It’s a question as old as writing itself. Should the audience conflate author and narrator or, as here, the author with a character who shares the same name?

The answer is yes, no and maybe. Yes, these are letters Laura wrote to real people about real events in her life like moving country or losing a baby. No, the Laura on the page is a mere sliver of the real thing and a stylized version at that. Maybe, because every author reveals some shiny part of themselves when they dare to leave words on a page. Love, Laura.

4 March 2021 | Karen Kao