In wise and masterful poems, Stephen Dunn “reveals a deep understanding of human longing and the desire to become more than what we are” (Washington Post).
Incisively capturing the oddities of our logic and the whimsies of our reason, the poems in Whereas show there is always another side to a story. With graceful rhythm and equal parts humor and seriousness, Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Dunn examines the difficulties of telling the truth, and the fictions with which we choose to live. Finding beauty in the ordinary, this collection considers the superstition and sophistry embedded in everyday life, allowing room for more rethinking, reflection, revision, prayer, and magic in the world.
Pulitzer Prize winner Dunn (Lines of Defense) explores the subjunctive mood in his 18th collection, probing the what-ifs, counterfactuals, and beliefs from which we build our lives. "A claim without a but' in it/ is, at best, only half true," Dunn writes in the sly and seemingly effortless "Propositions," whose self-negating assertions recognize the difficulty of telling the truth. Indeed, truth telling often seems less important to Dunn than useful fictions. "Which one of us doesn't need some kind/ of magic to help navigate and go on," he asks in "In the Land of Superstition," a place "where black cats tend to live longer/ than their allotted nines." At other moments, however, Dunn shows interest in being less deceived: "Some truths are better than others," he asserts in "Call Them All In," "which means, of course, some are worse." At worst, Dunn's short lyrics can seem slight or uninspired, falling short of those truths he seeks. But at their best, these poems deliver wisdom that is disquieting and surprising, reminding readers of language's frailties as well as our own. "What makes us think the dead/ want evidence of our caring?" Dunn asks in a poem about a funeral. "Those who choose to speak/ will discover it takes other words/ to say the words they mean."