David Wheatley’s well-folded very short poem

David Wheatley’s new collection “The President of Planet Earth” (Wake Forest) overflows with formal wit and wisdom.

Thinking about the fold, I’ll mention now a two-line poem titled “Sighting.”

A ? is standing on my
copy of “Birds of Scotland.”

The last three words are italicized (no quotation marks) as the title of the book the ? happens to be standing on. Presumably were it not
standing on the book the book would be in use to name it. But not knowing the name — referring to it only as a punctuation mark, even the least punctive or pointed question mark — makes us feel its presence as a mystery and a solider one at that.

The hinge (fold?) of the poem is “formally” the word copy. The bird, if we knew its name, would be closer to a copy of the model of the species. But we don’t know that species —- perhaps because we won’t open the book to find out and scare away the bird. The poem concludes with a name, not a question (mark). The final reference in the poem is to that definitive joining of title and substance that is a (copy of) a book and the other to the equivocal creature conjured in the first line. And yet the contrast between A and B rebounds to A. The nameless bird becomes a mystery in the flesh.

Very short poems must do a lot with little. The complex fold, the doubling of figurative structures, is happily unobtrusive. The clever poem is more than clever.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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