Book Review: Leap Thirty
Reviewed by Joseph Haeger
A life lived and all the melancholy experiences that go with it
Oftentimes when I read poetry, it revolves around an idea. A theme that is the driving force, acting as the connective tissue for the collection. This is the central point the poet writes around to carry us through the book. I love this approach.
Then, there are more narrative collections, where a story is being told through the form and structure of poetry. Again, I can appreciate this approach—I think it’s fun and engaging when poets use this discipline to tell a grander story.
But then, there’s a book like Leap Thirty. This collection is a conglomeration of these two approaches, taking both the theme and narrative into account, and it turns out to be my favorite.
Leap Thirty by Diane Lowell Wilder is a deep dive into growing up. It’s a document that explores this experience so well that I felt like I was a part of her life. The moments when we inevitably look back and yearn for the simpler times are especially striking. What works so well here is how Wilder follows this universal path: kids want to be independent, but once they achieve adulthood, they are then struck with the melancholy desire to go back.
She tells this overarching story while weaving in her own personal experiences, which enriches the whole journey and makes it even more engaging. In the introduction, she explains that these poems are and are not her life. She consolidates and expands things for the sake of the art, but at the core, these are all true to her own life and the authenticity shows.
Leap Thirty is built of five sections as they continually evolve and push the grander story forward.
In the first section, Wilder explores her own childhood, aiming the lens at her parents and how she wanted to grow up and move on to adulthood. This is followed by a section that focuses on falling in and out of love—an important moment in life because it shows that nothing is permanent. In the same way someone grows and changes, so does love.
The third section brings in the retrospect, looking back at the sweetness of growing up. In the fourth, she’s a parent herself, trying to guide her young daughter through the world while preserving her innocence. The final section looks at all the memories she’s accrued over time and how she desperately wants to protect them.
An excerpt from “The Way Out:”
When the nurse has gone,
you tell me that there’s
all the time in the world.
will live on whether we
are here or not.
The language in Leap Thirty is sharp and to the point. There’s not a lot of talking around the subject and that’s something I tend to gravitate toward in poetry. The writing here feels lived in and true to Wilder’s worldview and how these experiences influenced her outlook.
In “Diorama,” she frames life as fabricated. We do things in accordance with the game we’re all unknowingly playing. This poem presents her life as out of control, but she’s trying to change that by being the one making her own decisions. She wants to cut the strings and become her own puppet master.
Another poem I loved was “Voyeur.” Wilder watches a woman and describes her routine of solitude. The woman’s husband comments on how sad it is to be alone, which leads Wilder to question this sentiment. She basically says, How can this woman be alone if I, as a spectator, am with her every night, watching from afar?
Taking this idea a step further, Wilder can’t possibly be alone in all these poems because we, as readers, are standing by her side. With every word we read, we get a little closer. In this shared experience, we’re surrounded by all these different individuals. This poem is a good example of how impressive Wilder is by taking seemingly simple concepts and compounding them with deeper meaning and interpretation.
Leap Thirty is Diane Lowell Wilder’s concept album. She’s giving us strong and compelling poems that both stand on their own and go together–a beautiful portrait of a life lived. It’s a true mosaic and beautiful to watch unfold page after page, deepening her story and creating layers upon layers for her life. Truly, my only complaint is Leap Thirty comes in at a brisk 84 pages and I could have continued reading Wilder’s poetry long after that. So now I’m here, patiently waiting for her next collection.
Publisher: June Road Press
Print Length: 84 pages
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