Review | A Shot in the Canon’s Mouth: Catherine Wing’s Enter Invisible
                 (Sarabande, 2005)

Equal parts lightning rod and tuning fork, Catherine Wing’s first collection deals in untouchable terrains and ignored edges, where “the sun rounds the corner like a policeman in drag” and “Hell is not a hidden place.” What can we stand to see only peripherally? How can we see ourselves, sans mask and the daily costume change; when do we wear irony or romance with a laugh and a wink?

Harkening back to poetry’s oral tradition of sound as the purveyor of meaning, marrying voice to the stage-prop syllabics that visually enact it, Wing’s sonic associations—sometimes close to sonic rambles—are engineered to grab us by the ear with urgency. To remind us that words dance with or without us, for us or around us, whether we try to fix them to a page with the theorist’s furrowed brow or not. Witness this excerpt from “Dear Snow,” where the sounds chart a literal and physiological decline into dream: “Bewilder awhile wild eye and well, / splinter the spindle into spine, and ink and apple.) // Sigh, // Sleep.” Or perform “The Gust Front” with your voice:

In the headlong heart race
over the curve and spine of land
much coiffured cumulonimbus
heaped in heart rent
and mock rain flutter
moves vertical on
air currents along
and up lightning

Our hero in small prop
red baron of drought
flies through the keyhole
of cloud to deposit
starry ice-seedlings
lingers but a moment
in the billow enough
to uncorset untress
the cirrostratus tangle knot
and via striptease
seduce the cloud to rain

To Wing, sound is more than a prop—it’s atmospheric necessity. And even while she acknowledges, in “Exclamation,” that there’s “a garden overthrown / with glitz and grammar,” the background noises of her heroes’ green worlds are catalyst and motivation. A lot of strange stuff happens in her worlds: clouds get seduced, Tom & Jerry hire hookers, and an interspersed sequence of Counting Songs maintains the collection’s tightwire harmony where dictionaries, Shakespeare, and geometry get juggled. But rather than privilege the show over the tell, Wing pushes her show to festive highs. Even when it risks too much color or noise, she acknowledges overload as a reality and doesn’t sacrifice natural cacophony or high-voltage situations to the straightforward, serviceable phrase. While some may find this situational realism daunting, Wing’s authority makes it an honest refusal of artificiality on the page.

Especially in poems like “Wallace Talks to Stevens” and “I Saw U,” this density may cause some to wish for a sheet-music translation. But the majority of poems masterfully blend these sonic aspirations with graspable sideways views of the tragic, as in “Some Human Incident”:

After the baby we knew more, knew
Better, saw Kafka in the grillwork. An end to the
Cockleshell days, madeleines, pearlstones,
Duded up nights on the town. Hello Un-
Easy, dream barriers, briars in the cornstarch.
Foxholes appeared in the garden.
Genies went jitterbug, even the
Hawthorn was frantic. 70% of our town was
Inflammable, the rest ready as tinder.
Just as the bloom field was about to blow,
Ketchup catching on as a vegetable, the baby
Left, struck out for paradise on his own, with Teddy
Mounted in a bag on a stick.
Next, please, we shouted after him, but felt empty.
Oh, the deserts were just: a hollow
Palazzo, eggshells on the loudspeaker,
Queer baby ghosts that hovered at the periphery.
Right was wrong ever after.
Still, we thought he might come back
To us. We kept his room going,
Underscored his name on the mailbox.
Virtually every night we ate his favorite foods—
Wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut. Eventually
X replaced Y. We became him. We were where he got to.
You wouldn’t understand. We don’t. There’s
Zip in the literature and we’ve looked it up.

Enter Invisible examines what we shrink from, the shared corners of our too-easily polarized human incidents, the way shadows shape-shift when glimpsed peripherally or dead-on. By collapsing dichotomies, humor and tragedy become indiscernible—and real.

Weighty stuff, surely, but not in Catherine Wing’s hands. In poems like “Hail-Fellow-Well-Met” (“A roosting pigeon rushed by with the baling wire; / someone turned the sun down with a dimmer / and hung himself on the coat rack.”) or “Beauty: To Do” (“Remember B-12 for agony, / B-6 and C in case of heart ruckus. / Don’t mention 100 years slumber, the rape, again.”), she embraces the difficult, the unspoken. Wing knows indirection can be the fastest path to get at resistant clarities, and she delivers a glam tuxedo, bow tie undone, propped in front of funhouse mirrors.

Not the most Shakespearean sensibility, though this collection does come together within the bard’s hand. Opening poems often function as user guides to the rest of the collection, and in this book the title poem is no exception. “Enter Invisible” is, on its surface, a prose poem about the narrator failing to score in a bar. But beneath the narration of a pickup in progress, embedded diction that initially reads like sonic free-association or surrealistic nonsense (words like “heavy father” or “Alazon”) actually functions as code to clue the comedic arc of a Shakespearean green world:

So she says to me, “You be the heavy father and I’ll be the hayseed.” And she’s alright, better than, and it’s dark and the bar pretty empty so we start this courtship mockery over a Bud and peanuts and the noise of the dishwasher. She’s calling me Alazon but I don’t know who that it is and if it means, say, scoring later on, I’ll take it.

A background in the root elements of comedy (knowing that alazons, or imposters, is a comedic type dating back to Aristotle, and the threatening but gullible “heavy father” is the primary manifestation of those imposters) certainly isn’t necessary to connect with the majority of poems in this book. Some sense of being inside a dramatic comedy does however create gravitas for poems like “Mini-Sonnet” that could otherwise seem like formal pyrotechnics:



I’m always suspicious of poetry that relies on the reader’s cracking some hidden code—but Enter Invisible envisions and reaches toward a much broader reader base. These poems are, ultimately and regardless of the unspeakable difficulties they’re shaped by, poems of play.

For a first book to take such careful aim at the literary canon and to try for the spotlight of critical acclaim in a market saturated with first books is not uncommon. But Wing’s is a holistic vision enacted within these pages—not just mind, but heart and spirit too. For a first book to embrace and convey so keenly that “here”—inside, with the noise and funny faces and need for a little quiet—is “where we edit the tide” is a remarkable demonstration of that vision, and I can’t wait to see what Wing will pursue in the poems to follow this exquisite debut.