Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s Rings spirals through the alphabet with both velocity and precision. To read this poetry is to feel your pulse quicken, for Wagner demonstrates form as energy and imagination. It’s not that Wagner deploys her impressive gifts to make a world that coddles or eases the reader. The centrifugal force of her perception is fierce and compels us to acknowledge an innermost lacunae. Still, this is a work of strange jubilation. Wagner renews ruin and memory so that they become responsive. The poet asks, “And what drives/us to make love//or anything, really?” Her response: “We know the mystery//of memory is not concealed/in the higher animal (it is concealed/in the route) . . . .” Welcome to the animate labyrinth.
—Elizabeth Robinson, contest judge
Wagner's debut collection is an astounding, labyrinthine, and primordial environment where language is a refreshingly bewildering, alien thing: "few could see the trees/ for the fringe, the forest for its foreign language." These poems are wild creatures sprawling into one another in a loose alphabetic form that is powerfully exercised, technically masterful, and encyclopedic in its scope.
—Publisher's Weekly, Starred Review
If all the places and animals along every road were labeled in disappearing ink, if Tree of Life were alphabetized in a hidden encyclopedia, if photographs erased thoughts and every documentary were about water, if our attention stayed switched on, if moments moved through time instead of through words and everything could speak for itself, they all would chant Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s Rings, which in tree language means: an index of being alive.
Gutsy and acute great-grandchild of Williams and Niedecker, Jasmine Dreame Wagner does not light out for the territory—she lights it from within. Her book is assertive in its naming, resolute in its wandering: a true map of our 21st century. The alphabet runs through it, stitching locations, urban and pastoral, ancient and contemporary, to their history. Rings may leave you (it did me) breathless with its radical inclusiveness—there’s not a stone left unturned, a landscape left unexplored, a human left unloved. Like the truest and clearest of bells, Rings rings.
“Consider who is standing outside their continuity,” challenges Jasmine Dreame Wagner in this book of disruptive characters—Rings riddles the system of the master code, transforming abecedarian inevitability into a field of expansive affinities. Sound and letter are both impetus and anchor, leaping and precariously alighting amid a landscape of stopless profusion and industrial spoil. Her secular litany cracks with the ecstatic, with echo and elegy, with breakage and frame. In its intricate circlings, Rings is a record of revolutions, a sounding of our stranger selves: “we are/host and hostess to an evolving alphabet. We are witness//to our voice in the playback.”
Jasmine Dreame Wagner
Publishers Weekly Starred Review