In Debris Jonathan Wells is concerned by the tension between the internal world of the lyric and an external world of violence and intrusion. Following this conflict through poems of rumination, imagination and increasing threat, the book resolves in a eulogy that is simple and touching. In one of the opening poems, “Notes from the Invasion”, the speaker asserts, “The worst has happened. There is nothing/to imagine,”. The collection as a whole asks us to consider the questions: without imagination, what is left of the poem and the mind in a time of catastrophe? How are we to find peace? Experience love? Wells invites us to join him in the lyric’s journey, to shelter in reading, and to travel in the imagination in order to protect the self from danger and risk without denial.
After the storm I picked up sticks
doing what my father did
on Saturdays. I heaped them
in a shaky pile that teetered
and began to slip, kindling
for a fire to warm the afternoon.
When he’d asked me to come with him
I’d refused but watched him stoop
from the warm side of the window.
The bundle grew under his arm
as he crossed the lawn carrying
load after load to the lower
ground where he let me strike
the match in spite of my recusal.
At a moment in history when simply breathing is fraught with social and political implications, to be inspired, that is, to breathe in, implies a new metaphysics. Debris, Jonathan Wells’s third poetry collection, invites us to ‘inhale the page’s fragrance and complete the scene,’ as Wells does throughout this most inspired work. And in so doing, he breathes in a rich archive of literary culture, the debris of late capitalism, the emotional debris of human relationships, and the glorious debris of lived experience. Wells makes himself vulnerable to the world to remind us that the personal is political, yes, but the political takes up residence in the body in much the way these poems do, at a cellular and most intimate level.
The sense of timelessness one finds in Jonathan Wells’s Debris typically comes to us through translation, often from the position of exile, as if we require perspectives shot through the prism of another language to better see the lives we are in. As his speaker describes, ‘An unexpected story moves me / toward the window. Is it mine / or the one about how the pylons / crumbled and the planks fell.’This book provides a mirror to the country in which we now reside, that has for so long been unrecognizable.”