By Way of Introduction

Ellen Wehle’s First Book of Poetry

By John Dufresne on 9.30.09

I once sat with the late George Garrett at a poetry panel at a Georgia writers’ conference. The panelists were heralding the triumph of accessible poetry, poetry so simple, clear, and direct that Everyman could understand it instantly. George leaned over to me and said, “Soon, even our dogs will understand it.” This story comes to mind because I’ve just read my friend Ellen Wehle’s first book of poetry, The Ocean Liner’s Wake. Ellen’s poems should be read and then read again.

No easy and immediate insights are offered. Perception first, and then awareness, and only then, comprehension.  These poems demand attention and reflection. They are smart, tough, intellectually provocative and emotionally powerful. This is architecture, friends, not interior design. There is no unnecessary ornamentation. These poems think the difficult and complete thought. By way of introduction, I’ll share this poem of Ellen’s that I remember her reciting to our Friday might writing group many years ago. A poem I never forgot.


People don't jump off bridges because they want to die. Perched on the 
swaying cables, we have never loved life more. Clinging, hands gone dumb, 
the pigeon shit, the strata of molted feathers. Exultation: two dark wings, a door.


When I was sixteen the Blue Route hung unfinished in the sky, phantom
sections of highway that would connect Philadelphia to Allentown. No reason.
We'd park and scale the cliff up to girders: me, the boy who loved me. A single
catwalk strung over the valley. Edging out. Stars hot as spilled rocket fuel.


I look for it still. Body bowing out from the iron struts, gravity a key dropped
from my lap. Then…slowly…the letting go. Right strut. Left. His hand
between my shoulder blades; my life locked in his fist. Far below, a rumble of
wheels, the magnificat of freight trucks passing.


Also by Ellen Wehle:
Second Coming (via Slate)

(Gravity published with the permission of the author)

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1 Comment

Dylan Shakespeare said on 10.05.09 at 2:43pm:

If every man understands poetry at a glance, then there is nothing there to hold you, there is no active journey of discovery; if that were the case, then poetry would be just a passive streaming in, like TV.
Hooray for The Waste Land.