The Wendys (Paperback)
“Because it is easier to miss a stranger / with your mother’s name,” Allison Benis White instead writes about five women named Wendy as a way into the complex grief that still lingers after the death of a sixth Wendy, the author’s long-absent mother. A series of epistolary poems addressed to Wendy O. Williams becomes an occasion for the speaker to eulogize as well as reflect on the singer’s life and eventual suicide: “What kind of love is death, I’m asking?” In the section devoted to Wendy Torrance, the fictional wife from The Shining who was bludgeoned by her husband, the speaker muses on the inadequacy of language to resolve or even contain grief in the wake of trauma: “A book is a coffin. Hoarsely. A white sheet draped over the cage of being.” Ultimately, The Wendys is a book of silences and space in which tenderness and violence exist in exquisite tension. “If to speak is to die,” White writes in “Ignis Fatuus,” “I will whisper.”
About the Author
Allison Benis White is also the author of Please Bury Me in This, winner of the Rilke Prize, and Small Porcelain Head, selected by Claudia Rankine for the Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry and named a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the California Book Award. Her first book, Self-Portrait with Crayon, received the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, Pushcart Prize XLI: Best of the Small Presses, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside.
“‘Because it is easier to miss a stranger / with your mother’s name,’ Allison Benis White writes an extended eulogy to women named Wendy, none of whom and all of whom are her mother. In these carefully made, sorrowful poems, White teases the seams between self and other, between fiction and ‘the real’ of the mother’s lost body. In the book’s gorgeous final sequence, Wendy Darling plummets to the earth in achingly slow motion: ‘I am lowering my mouth / over her mouth,’ writes White—evoking the eros of poetry’s ancient desire to speak to, to breathe with, the dead. These poems teach me how to mourn, which means they teach me how to love.”
“In these nuanced, incantatory poems, Allison Benis White addresses and inhabits five Wendys, each an archetype and a dimension of self, each ‘peeled down to [her] voice.’ Violence presses in on all of the Wendys, red or white, blood or milk, sugar, smoke, air, the page, and the prominent white space that demarcates and effaces voice and self. The poems are hushed, personal, spare; language breaks through an enigmatic privacy into a sapphire epiphany. Here, speech is grief. Here, ‘the living are the dream of the dead’ and the poem is the hallowed interface.”
" Allison Benis White uses acute, exquisitely wrought lines to examine violence against women in The Wendys (Four Way, Mar.)...."
— Barbara Hoffert