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Bart Edelman’s Whistling to Trick the Wind reviewed by David Garyan

January 7th, 2022

Whistling to Trick the Wind

by Bart Edelman

reviewed by David Garyan

The Review

Bart Edelman’s collection Whistling to Trick the Wind has arrived, and the moment couldn’t be more opportune. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party,” was the famous phrase first proposed by Charles E. Weller as a typing drill over a hundred years ago, and now Edelman is using it to introduce his poem, “Typing Drill.” When a great deal of poetry written today is nothing more than a keyboard exercise, Edelman is right to proclaim: “What drivel, what rot, what rubbish! / How does such nonsense originate? / Why should this be the exact time?” And when “A quick brown fox / Jumps over the lazy dog,” we recognize it as an English sentence which contains all the letters in the Latin alphabet, but one which Edelman, as a poet, is quick to analyze meticulously.

These poems are crafted, first and foremost, with the intricacies of language in mind, but there are no drills here. Edelman is a poet who has arrived to the linguistic track already in shape—his lines are fast, yet effortless; his rhythms are strong, yet elegant. His craft is capable of short and long distance, moving effortlessly from pieces like “Lost at Sea,” a short poem about love, to “Towards Sleep,” an affectionate prose poem about insomnia—quite long, and one that, unfortunately for those suffering from this condition, will not put them to sleep if they happen to read it. Indeed, this is a poet who’s trained for everything, but he feels no need to show his audience the exercises he’s done to arrive at this point.

Edelman has skillfully divided the collection into four parts: “Yellow,” “Red,” “Black,” and “White.” Readers will quickly notice that the color assignments are anything but random. Yellow is a color, in the most positive sense, usually associated with things like creativity, light, and growth, but poets, at least the good ones, don’t play in the usual way—they love irony, paradox, contradiction, among other things, and there’s plenty of that here. Edelman’s “Yellow” is a tumultuous one—a whirlwind of madness, truth, deceit, affection, disappointment, and chance all brought together. In “The Woodpecker,” we find that “no escape is possible. / Fate has a way of convincing, Even the most ardent skeptic,” but there’s also a sense of hope, freewill, in poems like “Easy Street,” for those who “got out of the game / When the time was right, / Left it all on Easy Street— / Lived for another day.” Indeed, individual agency is alive and well.

Red has most often been linked to passion, intensity, anger, and love, but here too, Edelman, in the most poetic way, strips the color of its clichés. His “Red” describes the dispassionate resignation we often feel when things like love have become a chore, rather than an emotion—when what we hear all around us seems false and unbelievable, like “the morning news,” and we simply don’t have the passion or energy to fight for change. In “The Age of Belief,” we “don’t need to entertain / A grand concept of God, / Or even love, for that matter; / These ideas burden the mind.” And as the speaker in “The Business of Love” tells us: “I should have retired / From the business of love / While I still had the chance, / But I was foolish / And far too unwise / For my own good.” Indeed, this is a section that does force us to reflect upon passion, intensity, anger, and love, but not in the moment—we’re confronted with all this precisely after those passions have faded. The end of anger may be a good thing, but usually not the end of love, and Edelman skillfully weaves these distinctions using language that’s honest and relevant to our own lives.

As we move on to “Black,” we expect Edelman to display a sense of despair, mourning, and the type of resignation in the face of love that his “Red” signified, but once again, Edelman is too skillful of a poet for that. Here we find optimism in the face of difficulty, strength, resilience, and the fervent desire for change in poems like “Revolution,” where Edelman writes: “Do not abandon hope / In those of us who remain / Unsure of our next step, / Unsteady on our feet, / Uneasy along the path,” and while there is a certain amount of despair here in poems like “Collapsing City,” where people are “Gripped tightly in nature’s fist / Unable to claim reason / as anything more than chance—” it’s a despair the speakers are oftentimes willing to overcome, and when they can’t, there remains the sinister agency to act upon humanity’s worst impulse—revenge—to get even with a cheating husband in “The Other Woman,” by loading “the Luger / He keeps by the bed, / Before discharging a bullet / Straight through his head.” Indeed, Edelman’s “Black,” while dark and tragic at times, is anything but passive and resigned—it represents the best and worst of what the human will can achieve.

White has traditionally been known as the color of purity and innocence, but Edelman’s “White” is anything but that. The speakers here are acquainted with murder, lust, and death, and many of them are going through life “Whistling to Trick to the Wind,” as the titular poem suggests: “Came to believe in a God / Whose perfection was never in question, / Promised to wire his mouth shut / If the Almighty would agree / To keep his miracles to himself.” And yet, there’s something simple and honest about the environment in Edelman’s “White.” In “The New Ralph,” we realize that the “advent of truth liberates / The common man in us all,” and in “The Shadows’ Forgiveness,” we’re reminded, once more, of “how reprieve lives… / Despite the absence of light.” Edelman’s pages, in this respect, contain all the colors of life, but they likewise have the strength to describe what happens when they’re absent from our existence.

This is poetry at its best—from beginning to end; each poem not only stands on its own, but builds a bridge for what’s to come next. Don’t miss Edelman on his journey.

About Bart Edelman

Bart Edelman’s poetry collections include Crossing the Hackensack, Under Damaris’ Dress, The Alphabet of Love, The Gentle Man, The Last Mojito, and The Geographer’s Wife. He has taught at Glendale College, where he edited Eclipse, a literary journal, UCLA, and, most recently, in the MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. His work has been widely anthologized in textbooks published by City Lights Books, Etruscan Press, Harcourt Brace, McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, Simon & Schuster, Thomson/Heinle, the University of Iowa Press, and others. His newest collection, Whistling to Trick the Wind, will soon be published by Meadowlark Press. He lives in Pasadena, California.


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