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Book Review: 'The Consolations' by John W. Evans

Exquisitely organized, the poems in The Consolations are not so much about grief, as set in the country of Grief. John W. Evans wrote this collection while he mourns the early death of his young wife, Katie. While not attempting to define or delineate the grief process he remains resolutely unafraid of confronting it in this work.

The first seventeen poems are titled by months since Katie’s death: Seven Months, Eleven Months, etc. They are not presented chronologically. This organization reflects the coming and going of grief, how it appears and disappears in a seemingly haphazard way. It refutes by implication the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross model of codifying grief, of defining and organizing it. Evans presents grief as washing in and out in an illogical order, sequence, and level of intensity.

The next eleven poems are grouped as Katie Ghazals and are entitled by the cities that the poet’s memories with his wife are attached to. In form they are loose interpretations of the ghazal. One traditional element he adheres to is the mention of the poet’s name in the last couplet; however, he mentions Katie’s name rather than his own. This repetition reverberates and makes Katie ubiquitous. The ghazal “Miami” (27) is the one that adheres most closely to form and uses the word word with poignancy and strength as a repetitive refrain in the last line of each couplet.

Vinegar and spices soften chicken on the bone. Wearing down this wood, a cell phone or the ragged click of words?

Downing dollar drafts and nickel wings at the only bar in Kankakee. C stitched on a wool cap, long in the tooth, wordless.

The longish poem “Consolations” appears in its own section, followed by a grouping titled Years, which is mostly set during the poet’s second marriage. They take place all around the world: Indiana, California, Romania, Turkey, Korea. The almost manic peregrinations of this polyglot poet and his new wife feel as if he is running away from the memory of his first wife but is unable to escape it. The grief follows him as in the Crowded House song “Weather With You”: Everywhere you go / always take the weather with you. The reader witnesses the poet coming to terms with his grief, not resolving it. In the ultimate, powerful poem “The Legend of a Life” (67) Evans writes:

I remember you now as that life, that other place.

He expresses guilt at his newfound happiness with his new wife and son:

I love this life after you like a stranger arriving late to his own surprise party…

Evans is highly literate, drawing material and allusions with equal ease from the Bible, the classics, pop culture, American poetry, Romanian poetry and American history. Theodore Roosevelt sits comfortably alongside Mickey Rourke in the movie The Wrestler and Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians.

Evans’ pain is palpable, so much so that the collection is at times difficult to read. Happily, there is redemption: the reader experiences during this poetic journey the lesson of learning to live with ambivalence and grief and continuing to live despite unbearable loss. In this collection Evans honors and respects the memory of his first wife, acknowledges that memory, then walks away with love in order to embrace his second wife and new son.

The Consolations by John W. Evans, Trio House Press, Tennessee: 2014. Buy it here!

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