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initial unassuming, where Zepeda describes the places he visits in Mexico, but what really irked me was his use of the outdated and distasteful term transvestite.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
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.