Attorney Wiley (Hero’s Island, 2005) continues his late-in-life career as a poet, with a second collection of quiet meditations.
These poems explore two primary subjects: the natural world and social interactions, whether with family members or strangers. In either case, Wiley works as a miniaturist, exploring passing encounters or fleeting scenes. Throughout, he demonstrates a supple feel for language and its music. Loose accentual patterns keep his free verse elegantly measured, and he has methodically pruned his lines of any unnecessary adornments. Lines such as â€œThe rooster dresses for breakfast in his finest / rust red hackles shining in the morning sun / sickle-shaped white iridescent tail feathers” demonstrate his sensitive ear, constructing chains of rhyme and assonance (e.g., â€œdresses–breakfast–finest–shining–iridescent”). At his strongest, as in â€œFerns,” â€œThe Plow” or â€œThe Prelude” (a marvel of compression, offering eight lines as opposed to Wordsworth’s 14 volumes), the poet stands comparison to William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker or Robert Creeley. He can also pull off longer pieces. â€œGeneral Store,” for instance, conveys a precise vision of a rural Vermont scene, complete with its unique sense of time, before concluding in a magnificent catalogue of the store’s contents. At the same time, Wiley’s gifts have their limitations. He’s not immune from the temptation to editorialize, an issue that particularly mars the pronouncements about poetry that form the weakest section of this collection. The design doesn’t help these poems, which are sprinkled awkwardly among mostly blank facing pages. As with any artist working so determinedly in a minor key, at times his material and insights seem simply trivial. On the whole, though, this collection rewards rereading with its impressive craft and deeply felt perspective.
Finely wrought work from a writer who deserves wider renown.