Can This Wolf Survive? By Rafael Zepeda is a collection of poems that center around Los Angeles and the experiences of aging. The collection had a strong sense of place, and the relationships described have depth. Though, this collection felt out of place and deeply aged for being published only a few years ago.
Zepeda, having more experience as a fiction writer, seems to have written the poems with the same approach as he would fiction. In effect, the poems read with a dull linearity, where few risks are taken with line breaks/stanza distinction (lines are of only one sentence, stanzas feel isolated), dialogue, or the abstract. In truth, this had made me question if poetry was the right form for the stories and moments Zepeda wanted to tell.
I also began to question the intent and integrity of some of the poems such as When I Heard Burkowski Die, Rashomon Revisited, and A Descent into Baja. The first of which seems to have only been written to create a connection between Zepeda and Burkowski without much consideration into the craft of the piece. Like many of the other poems, its effect seems self-indulgent and only there to try and make Zepeda’s name associated with famous writers.
In Rashomon Revisited, it was unclear what the motivation of the poem was about. To me, it seemed like it was trying to feel superior to the subject, a woman questioning him about his support of the LGBTQ community, where he would be able to get the final word in. It gave me an uncomfortable feeling, and only confirmed my thoughts after reading A Descent into Baja. This poem is initial unassuming, where Zepeda describes the places he visits in Mexico, but what really irked me was his use of the outdated and distasteful term transvestite. The poem would’ve been decent enough had he not used the word, but confirmed my thoughts on his true feelings, initially raised in Rashomon Revisited.
This collection is a disappointing foray into an older man’s antiqued thoughts. And even more disappointing is Jim Harrison’s praise of Zepeda on the back cover.
Final Rating: 2/5
The Paris Review Issue 238 is a collection of poetry, prose, and art that widely looks at the world through a fractured lens—at least it tries to. To start off, I found the shining star of this issue to be in ‘This Then Is a Song, We Are Singing’ by Sterling HolyWhiteMountain. It is a piece that is written as if it were posted on a social media website and documents the tumultuous relationship between Wayne and Lulu. The language feels raw, which gives its final ending in which Wayne, the writer, kills Lulu and another guy genuine and powerful. However, the piece continues with the voices of others commenting and wondering if everything is okay. I found Wayne’s justifications and desires to be deep and, at times, dark. The other piece I was fascinated with was ‘Infinite Life’ by Annie Baker. However, I thought these pieces were outliers when it came to the freshness of pieces.
The biggest contention I had with this issue was that it was deeply apparent what types of voices weren’t heard. The piece ‘Walks’ by Caleb Crain falls into this hole as it documents the walks of a guy and his dog as the Covid pandemic begins. Often, when people write about the pandemic, usually it feels all the same, and this exists within that pocket. First, it focuses on an upper middle-class man who finds Covid to be a nuisance rather than something serious (often there are comments about other people wearing masks when he doesn’t find it necessary). Covid seems to have affected the speaker very little, and this is the case in the piece. It comes off as insensitive to the workers and people who actually were working so closely with Covid. I don’t want to hear about a well-off white man complain about Covid, I want to hear about the struggles of the workers/nurses/dying. Second, its use of birds as a metaphor feels, not only drawn out, but a little reductive. It seems, to me, too easy of a comparison of birds to cages to people stuck in their rooms. And because of that, its intended impact misses.
The other story I had problems with was ‘Exhaling’ by Emmanuel Carrère which documents the meditation trip he took and what it means to him when he has to get pulled out because of a terrorist attack in Paris. Frankly, the piece is boring. It drags on about breathing and describing the minutia of meditating to an irksome degree. It is annoying (and this is more of a personal preference) that all the foreign words were italicized and then were described. It became apparent to me that the speaker’s audience was not me, but in fact older white men. The sex scene goes on for way too long and feels like it was written by someone who just discovered erotica. And its final scene where the speaker is taken from the retreat early because of the terrorist attack on Carlie Hebdo makes no sense to me. Why would he need to go back to France when, at that point, he was probably safer at the retreat? If it was due to travel restrictions, it was not written clearly enough. The only redeeming quality of the piece is the scene where the wolf watches as the speaker and another person perform tai chi.
Overall, I was disappointed with the issue. It focuses on older white privileged male voices, which implicitly removes and marginalizes the voices of others.
Final Rating: 2/5
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a novel about a marsh girl, Kya, who was abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself in the marsh of North Carolina. Years later, she is accused of murdering Chase Andrews, one of her past boyfriends, because some clues lead back to her. It is a story about loneliness, love, loss, and nature.
While I enjoyed the descriptions of nature and the initial set-up of the story, I was more or less underwhelmed with the story. The largest thing that stuck out to me was that a lot of the side characters that were black, Jumpin’, Mabel, and Jacob all talked in an overly stereotypical manner. Kya however, who only went to school once in her life and was self-educated with little contact with the outside world, spoke perfectly clear English without a twang. I’m not sure if this was unintentional, but I was put off by that.
To get more granular, I found that chapter 33, where Jodie came back, was stuffed into the narrative. Both the characters were written awkwardly and there was too much exposition/explaining of what Ma did when she left. In addition, the last chapter was directionless, and the two deaths were not impactful.
And my final gripe is that the last third of the story was simply a court drama where Kya was let off Scot-free. The court, while a needed aspect to push the story forward, didn’t add feeling to Kya’s actions. It was more or less dull in its retelling.
Final Rating: 2/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.