Fried Goldfinch/ poetry by Sarah Wyman/ book review by Laurence Carr

I always admire a poet, who in a published book of 80 or so poems, can shift gears with themes, subject matter and tone. Writer and poet, Sarah Wyman, in her book, Fried Goldfinch, published by Codhill Press, 2021, does just that. And although the works are presented in traditional flush-left, boxed stanzas (perhaps there could be a little more play with format here), they bounce through the poetic world opening new doors of thought and feeling. The point of view of the poems struck me as original; the poet’s voice, sometimes imaginatively off-center, nevertheless delivers accessible and often meditative pieces.  

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The cover art is Autumn (2018) by William Bland, used by permission of the artist.

The book is presented in four Roman-numeral sections without section titles. This was a good choice as if allows the readers to discover themes and connections within the four sections and then with the entire book. Section I focuses most of the poems on the natural world, but not in a Mary Oliver way. This naturescape offers the surreal, the sensual and even a cock-eyed view through the poet’s lens. 

Poems: “Milkweed Pollinator”, “ChefKaleshake” and “Affair in Yellow” bring new meaning to the natural world. The book’s title poem, “Fried Goldfinch” can be unsettling if you fail to embrace the dark humor. The opening lines read:

“My recipe for battered goldfinch

neglects to mention

best strategies for trapping the bird:”

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It took me several readings to understand the pun on the word “battered.” Despite its dark humor, has Wyman created the next level of eco-poem?

In this same section, the poet creates “Cheese Suite, for Dudley”, a series of eight odes wrapped around eight world cheeses. One could write this off as the poet’s late night whimsey, but upon deeper reading, one can find engaging images and mini-biographies that can enthrall the culinary aficionado, the cheese-head, or even the tiny cheese-mite. Here is the opening of “Swiss”:

“Wrapped in plastic, the machine-made amalgamation

Of a cartoony borrowing from another nations hidden valleys,

Reeking of cheese.”

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Another intriguing section of the book (Section II) is a series of ekphrastic poems that roam through the art world. These poems confidently observe the works of Mary Cassett, Jim Dine, Grace Hartigan, who gets three poems, Carolee Schneemann, and Joan Mitchell among others. The poet truly has an artistic eye; she takes each art piece as a jumping off point to create series of essay-poems that meditate both objectively and subjectively on the artist, the art world and our place in it. And much like the nature and food poems, there is a deeper resonance in Ms. Wyman’s writing. Here is the opening of “Hemlock: a painting by Joan Mitchell”:

“A hemlock holds no leaves

so the horror of white

thrashing its snowstorm

can creep in between needles to obliterate

each green dagger on its simple stem.”

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Nature poems, novelle eco-poems, political poems, or simply stimulating images that the reader can return to and keep: The book, Fried Goldfinch, like so many poetic works, is deceptive. Beneath its stimulating and even sometimes quirky surface, it invites us to a deeper dive to a place where the reality of imagination lives.

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Sarah Wyman writes and teaches on verbal / visual intersections and lives in the Hudson Valley where climbing feet kick dust down to a river-sea.  Her work has appeared in Aaduna, Mudfish, Ekphrasis, San Pedro River Review, Potomac Review, Petrichor ReviewChronogramShawangunk ReviewA Slant of Light:  Contemporary Women Poets of the Hudson Valley (Codhill), and other venues. Finishing Line Press published her chapbook  Sighted Stones (2018).

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Laurence Carr is the publisher of Lightwoodpress.com. He writes in various forms and his work is published here and there.

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