The Crisis of Infinite Worlds
As I recall, my local library when I was a kid (shout-out to the Thornhill Branch of the St. Louis County Public Library!) had a summer reading program for youth for which the goal was reading fifty books. Can this be right? You’d add a metallic star sticker to a big public chart each time you read one, and you’d get prizes incrementally, and as August rolled around several of us would be in the heady reaches of the gold stickers, closing in on the goal.
My local library now, the marvelous Iowa City Public Library, has a summer reading program for kids, but it also has one for adults. Fantastic idea; sign me up. The goal for adults: five books between June 1 and August 2. Just five books. Piece of cake, right?
Reader, I’m sorry to say that it’s July 3 and I’ve read only one book.
When you’re an adult, alas, life intrudes on your reading time. For instance, the screw holding the left side of my oven door together somehow fell out and disappeared, and this week I have spent all my lunch hours driving around town looking for a replacement screw of just the right length and diameter. Ace Hardware, with its hundreds of tiny drawers full of screws, did not have it! They referred me to a store called Fastenal that I hadn’t even known existed, a store with perhaps thousands of tiny drawers full of screws, and in one of those drawers was the one I needed.
This and 8,354 other similar tasks have kept me from finishing Dana Ward’s The Crisis of Infinite Worlds (Futurepoem, 2013). This book was the last assignment for the spring semester of the Contemporary Poetry and Poetics reading group that I joined; I couldn’t attend the meeting to discuss it, but I vowed to read it anyway, over the summer. And finally did.
Ward’s book fits in perfectly with my grownup life of errands: it’s suffused with the everyday. And yet the everyday, in his hands, takes on elements of the wondrous. His first poem is a meditation on the harp sound his phone makes when it rings, though he somehow weaves in references to The Wizard of Oz, his baby daughter, Snoop Dogg, Marxism, and war.
High culture, low culture, the public sphere, and the domestic sphere continue to meet and mingle in the rest of the book. In one of the poems, Ward discloses that he wrote this book on a deadline—Valentine’s Day 2012—and it’s obvious, in a good way, that it was written in a limited time frame and rather quickly. It’s a time capsule of popular culture of the very recent past intersecting with events of his life from the same period, as when he recounts watching Jersey Shore the night before his daughter is born, or when he and friends organize a seance/art event that somehow centers around a screening of Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel.
That may sound cutesy, and there is plenty of informality and play in these poems, but Wald is ever in total control, and on some level dead serious. At times the seriousness becomes quite apparent. These lines, for instance, come from a sonnet sequence about becoming dependent on codeine:
So how many times can I like myself today
& savor the interior beating my wings while someone listens
disinterested but integrated nervously against their better judgment
strung along the love boat in the dark of its alignments
which always flood the harness my diamond pulls flush with my shoulders
god bless the eyes I pull this ice
What emerges from The Crisis of Infinite Worlds is a poetic persona who is a good companion to one’s daily life, who sees the luminous in the mundane, who will point out the importance of “loving / the mysterious key whose door I have forgotten / that lives in my car.” I want to call Dana Ward (whom I don’t know) and tell him about my trip to Fastenal. I think he’d enjoy hearing about it.