Saturday, June 28, 2008

Field of Wanting – Poems of Desire by Wanda Phipps

Field of Wanting – Poems of Desire
by Wanda Phipps
Blaze VOX {books}
Buffalo, NY
Copyright 2008
139 pages

Review by Lo Galluccio

A long-time admirer of Wanda Phipps’ poetry and voice, since first catching her at the Marathon Day Reading at St. Mark’s Church, I eagerly devoured her latest tour de Force, “Field of Wanting: Poems of Desire” released this year on Blaze VOX {books}. She is gifted with a powerful writer’s imagination and a lovely voice which articulates such pieces as “Heaven and Earth” and “Desire,” interwoven with doubled voicings, rhythmic breathing and spare instrumentation. As an example of her capacity to enchant with concrete ephemera, you can check out the first track on her Myspace page ( and hear a lush reverberating guitar under her softly declared words:

“I’m heaven over fire, fire under heaven. I’m heaven into eleven:
two plus eleven seconds of heaven.”

The pink and the shimmering white in “Desire” seem like floating pieces of divine candy you can almost taste but would rather spare.

Wanda and I share a similar background that spans the theatre arts world and writing (both prose and poetry) – Wanda having studied at Naropa, after theater school, and incorporating a kind of free-associative, open and broken phrasing style which sculpts thoughts that scan her monitor second by second.

Her poetry has been published over 100 times in a variety of publications, including several anthologies. A denizen of New York City – the City which marks much of her verse like a maze-like tattoo – she’s also curated several readings and performance series at the renowned Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, as well as other New York venues.

In 2004, Soft Skull Press released her full-length poetry book, “Wake up Calls: 66 Morning Poems” which rivaled, from a contemporary and female angle, Frank O’Hara’s famous “Lunch Poems.” The author successfully undertook to capture her own state of mind upon waking, on 66 successive mornings. The results are poems that refresh in their hybrid revelations, daily task-lists and sensory detail. This book put Wanda on the poetry map as a serious literary voice, one with both a learned and maverick’s approach to verse; one who’d been around and mentored; one who was still experimenting with how she wanted to paint.

Her latest collection is part anthology and part new works, some written under the influence of the break up of a long-term relationship with a live-in soul-mate and collaborator. Anyone who’s loved, labored and lost knows the agony of wanting to somehow pay tribute, kick the despoiler in the teeth, and run like hell, all in the same fell swoop. Phipps’ language wand casts such a powerfully luminous spectrum of colors that nothing feels bitter-black, rotten or remorseful in this collection. Nothing seems concocted in a frenzied rush to win, either. All seem like newly bred creatures; part of a poet’s evolutionary schema.

“Field of Wanting” contains nine sections – each honing to the mode and mood and particular style of its poetry zone: sonnets, prose-poetry paragraphs, numbered blues, and short-haiku like slivers, along with more traditional free-verse. In the opening poem, from “Your Last Illusion,” she writes a kind of prelude:

I am pure madness
If I yell and scream and bleed
Is that pure enough? is that raw enough?
If I wear my sensitivity like a crown
Is it a tool?
can I touch you with my frailty?
touch you with my vulnerability?
Is my weakness
my strength?

p. 13
“A Purist at Heart”

She continues with a series of 19 modern sonnets (inspired by Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets)—also called “Your Last Illusion” or “Break Up Sonnets” – each 14 lines, not rhyming.

So you left, you bastard, so what?
I’m ready to include the world
through with internal wars
weather’s clear
and lies are angels in the snow
best be off and running babe
one messy satellite still hovers
you are the one and only blinking muscle
God’s a shining fuck
step on your own toes to keep someone
else from beating you to it
the bathtub isn’t long enough for four
don’t dream now float
it’s best with Sunday morning peaches.

p. 21

In “Suddenly Everything” Phipps in her poem “Galloping Personas” touches on a villanelle-like repetition scheme (without writing a proper villanelle) using the noun phrase “golden blouse” alternately as distraction and conceptual device. :

She begins:

“So the mask remains baffling
say hello to the mask
a new way of being a “Person”
or a hurricaine Cordelia in Biloxi beauty
there’s a mountain out my window.”
and you must wear a golden blouse.”

And ends:

“songs of a baffling mask
experiencing persons of great beauty
by love’s window in a golden blouse”

p. 34-35

In “Hours” she creates 12 pieces that combine hallucinatory pop culture visions with an almost home-spun delivery of the world around her:

Fourth Hour

“she was late
for a meeting
with her therapist
found Linda Evans
in her bathroom
ripping her shower curtain
and she kept trying
to piece it back together
but Linda kept ripping it
into neat little squares.”

p. 48

Fifth Hour

“it’s raining today
they say snow soon
I need boots
I love those black barked trees
bare and soaking wet
branches like lace
against Chelsea lofts
my hour’s over”

p 49

What leaves me grounded and breathless within Wanda’s wondrous matrix of poems is her equally balanced formal intelligence and wild-child juxtapositions of disparities.

In the Section “Womb Dreams” a poem called, “Talks with a Stranger” (including a few words by Jorge Luis Borges) entices with:

“I’m in the voice before zero
I’m in the macaroni
I’m in the calculator
I’m in the refrigerator.”

“Velocity = Delta D
Change in Distance
Change in Time
Delta T
p. 112

In a deliciously erotic riff in her final section, “Gray Fox Woman” Wanda slips into an ode to a double who is also herself:

“kiss my shaved cunt
and bow to its beauty
introduce me to Dangerous
the woman in the spiderwebbed dress
the wild child filling her mouth
by the newspaper stand

let me watch you
unroll my fishnet stockings slowly
let me wait until you scream
because men do make noise when they fuck
but only as a form of worship.”

p. 124

Wanda will be appearing at The Living Theatre in NYC on July 28th. For more information check out her website: and

An investment in buying this book on or from the publisher is well worth your ducats. As Grace Slick once wailed: “Feed your head!”

Lo Galluccio is a vocal artist and poet whose prose-poem/memoir, “Sarasota VII” will be out on Cervana Barva Press in fall of 2008.

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