Local poet’s new book explores ‘The Other Place You Live’

The Other Place You Live

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

In her latest collection of poems, “The Other Place You Live” (Mayapple Press, $14.95), the unique gifts of expressiveness and imagery that are the hallmarks of St. Louisan Jane O. Wayne are on full display. Wayne’s poems have appeared in “Poetry,” “The Iowa Review,” “American Scholar,” “Ploughshares” and other prestigious journals, and her previous three collections received awards and praise.

In the title poem, “The Other Place You Live,” Wayne evokes a host of emotions and feelings:

Here in the dark where lies are taken

for the truth,

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some anxious question

keeps raising its hand

in the back row.

And either a camera dwells too long

on a close-up,

or a scene shifts arbitrarily.

The night likes to find

the rough place,

to run a finger over a scar

until you can hear

the playground tease

or you’re on the wrong bus again,

a woollen sleeve

trying to run condensation

from the window-

years it takes-

searching in a vortex of streets

for a certain house,

a door with no address

and somewhere a room

with a bed waiting,

the covers turned back

in childhood.

If you try to call out,

words catch

in your throat,

the gurgling of an empty bottle

plunged in water.

Wayne uses concrete, tactile images – a “camera dwells,” “a woollen sleeve,” “an empty bottle” – seemingly stable, everyday objects that get our attention, to evoke the “anxious question” that “keeps raising its hand in the back row.” At any given moment in one’s mind, there is an emotional subtext to the world we are observing.

Wayne’s verbal affinity invites the viewer into the depicted scene. One does not know what lies ahead, but cannot resist being drawn into the foyer, the stairwell, to what lies beyond.

A stanza in Wayne’s “Where Everything Seems Possible” describes a car that “speeds down a desert highway/ that doesn’t end, or else it soars along a causeway/headed for an island/always out of reach.”

Yes, like Robert Frost, Wayne invites us along to “take the road less traveled.” Along the way, like T. S. Eliot, she can “show us fear in a handful of dust.” She writes in the same poem of “some melody/still playing in your mind/but the lyrics gone.”

In “What the Surgeon Says” Wayne evokes fear of a more immediate, accessible kind:

Tumor, he says, noninvasive-

though it spreads quickly

through the room you’re in,

takes over so there’s nothing else

to talk about. And he goes on:

benign, he adds,

brain stem, skull bone-gives a crash course

in neurosurgery,

a new language to master

in under an hour, to take home

in the same skull he promises

to break and enter. A stranger-

and how much closer can he get?

He talks as though under anesthesia

you’ll be absent, instead of listening

No matter what Wayne writes about, she is always present. Her expressiveness is not limited to the obvious here and now. She can evoke the unheard melodies as sweetly and as vividly as those that are heard. She invites readers into the innermost reaches of her mind, giving voice to the universal joys and anxieties that walk with us on our daily journeys.

Poetry reading

WHAT: Jane Wayne reading from “The Other Place You Live”

When: Noon Monday, Feb. 14

Where: Lewis Room at Fontbonne University’s library

How much: Free

More info: 314-889-1451