YOU, THE VIEWER AT HOME, MOON. Tom Will. Maximus Books, 2022. 71 pages.
Tom Will’s new poetry collection You, The Viewer at Home, Moon is not a loud book in any way, not a flashy piece of acrobatics. In fact the poems within it are painfully quiet and subtle, like card tricks that are over before you know quite what happened. The concentration required to get into their grooves is likened to that elegance of mind needed while watching baseball or painting a watercolor or dancing. Ok, it’s not that bad. It’s not that strenuous. It is just a refinement that seemed to be put into the poems by Will that needs something similar on the part of the reader to extract the precious metals from the mine. These poems are constructed, according to specs that are a little more elevated than the typical poetry artificer’s.
There are sixty-three poems in the collection, of which the last twenty-three have the word “Moon” in the title. I decided, on a strange whim, to read the book backwards, reading the last poem first and heading in reverse through the poems to the beginning. I had this impulse because I wanted to see if the sequence of poems Will imagined when organizing the book would be destroyed if someone read them wrong way. It didn’t seem so. I spent the first part of the book in a lunar region ruled by the moon, a place of reflected light in the darkness.
These didn’t seem to be nature poems per se, although there is plenty of nature. Nor did they exactly seem to be imagistic in the sense of Ezra Pound’s petals on a wet, black bough (my education in poetry has gaps like a disintegrating scroll, so I don’t know what or who to compare Will to, therefore mercifully I won’t). I will say that Will has carefully chiseled his poems into simple shapes that sometimes contain contours and echoes that are deceptive at first glance. In the moon section of the auditorium where I was first seated, I read the “Irregular Anna Taylor-Joy Moon Sonnet,” which first finds the speaker asking “How can the clouds move behind the half moon,” an impossibility, before saying “If this were a sonnet I’d repeat this / Question fourteen times / Pausing before the ninth line.” Then he inhabits a fantasy where his poetry is famous and he meets “that one famous actress / At a gala” (presumably Anna Taylor-Joy) and he imagines her on a television screen — and then, pausing right on time with the ninth-line turn: “(Here I trail off; note the clouds still moving)” before returning to the actress on tv screens in a sports bar “playing all her roles” and comparing the sight of this to the optically impossible moon with the clouds “drifting in right behind it.” It’s elaborate and subtle and visually just off-kilter enough to make the phenomena stick out and imprint itself on us.
Out of the moonglow and in the first expanse of poems (first if you read the poems in the expected order), other delightful little off-beat insights which are the coloration of good poetry are waiting. Four poems are entitled “Crime Scene,” and “Crime Scene #4” ended with such an odd and wonderful detail that I hope Tom Will and Maximus Books don’t mind if I reproduce it here:
“I am full of foreboding like a class of children being walked along a red rope
Being walked past a driveway blocked with yellow caution tape
Where are the adults taking these children I wonder
One of the children is left handed and holding the rope in his right hand
Because they are all holding the rope in their right hand
But later on he forgets that this happened”
It makes you angry as another writer reading this because the envy over Will developing such a piece of subtle devastation is so strong, but then it turns to honest, real, supremely earned admiration. Where did that detail about the hands come from, and what does it mean? What vibrations did that left handed kid, grabbing the rope like all the others with his right hand which he usually doesn’t favor give off in that moment? How was that piece of work executed so well?
Many of the poems have this same kind of quizzical, hushed energy and intimacy. The sensorium of the poet is finely tuned and tinged at times with casual, near-synesthesiac perception. It’s warm here, within the moon’s rays and without, which surprised me, knowing that Will is the poetry editor for Apocalypse Confidential; I was half-expecting nihilistic, teasing mirth but instead I got something far more spiritually resonant and beautiful. (Apocalypses can be beautiful too, in a scary, heart-in-your-throat, adrenal way.)
Another example of greatness in the collection was “Easter Sunday, Greek Orthodox,” which after a thread of mazy memories we are led to recall “a quiet Sunday with no alarms so the volunteer firemen drive the fire engines to the store for groceries.” A remarkable, reassuring whiplash of an image.
I come finally to the beginning of the collection, the table of contents cut across by the terminator between moonlight and, one imagines, all other kinds of light, and in the midst of so much dark fiction and poetry I’ve been swimming in, it’s a good experience to take this excursion, this backstroke, into the healthy side of the pool.