William Wenthe is a patient poet. Maybe it’s because he’s also a fisherman. With practiced grace and skillful presentation, he casts his images onto the surface of the stream and lets them float, allowing them to hang before us for just the right amount of time before, with a flick of the wrist, he makes them dance and change, as real as life, leading us along, drawing us in. In his poems, the long, buoyant lines of thought unspool gracefully, leading from the homely particulars of ordinary life to lofty and eternal questions and back again with an easy, swinging rhythm. Perhaps it’s this patience, this willingness to stay with an image and let it follow its course, that lends such a richness to his poetic world. Wenthe’s work bears a powerful sense of the interconnectedness of people and nature, language and virtue, the living and the dead; his poems demonstrate again and again that the realm of theology and philosophy is always present within the material world, overlapping it and visible through it. The pervading sense of interconnectedness feels hard-earned, never facile; you feel in his poems that it takes great attentiveness to come to see the world this way—just as it takes an educated eye to see the shady pool where a trout might rise.
William Wenthe’s third book of poems, Words Before Dawn, has just been published by LSU Press. His previous books are Not Till We Are Lost (LSU 2004) and Birds of Hoboken(Orchises Press, 1995, reprint 2004). He was born and raised in northern New Jersey. After college, he spent four years travelling, and working various low-paying jobs, mostly in and around New York City. He received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia and now teaches creative writing and modern poetry at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, where he lives with his wife, the writer Jacqueline Kolosov-Wenthe, and their daughter, Sophia. He has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts, two Pushcart Prizes, and has published poems in numerous journals and anthologies. His critical essays on the craft of poetry have appeared in The Yale Review and Kenyon Review. His libretto for a full-length opera, Bellini’s War, about a prison camp in the Texas Panhandle for Italian POWs in World War II, was set to music by composer Steven Paxton and produced in 2001 at UC Allen Theater, Texas Tech University.
Whatever project I might be working on is really an expression of some question that has been lingering, welling, creating some sort of impulse inside of me. I gather that this process is true for many writers and artists. The questions differ from person to person, project to project, but I suppose the question must have some relevance to others—or the expression must, if it is to make the leap from solipsism to art. Lately much of my writing has revolved around a question that goes something like this: In what ways does art connect you to others, to experience; and in what ways does it separate you from others, and your experience? I claim no originality in this ancient question, but hopefully I can assert a little interesting peculiarity in my poetic expressions of it. The question motivates many of the poems in my new book, Words Before Dawn.
Of course this question is but a model of a larger concern: how do we connect with what is?Here lies my abiding interest—my poetic interest, apart from sheer pleasure—in the natural world: that unmediated realm. Generally my “projects,” as such, consist of whatever individual poems may grow (slowly) from some rhizome of a question. Lately, though, I have been working on a series of poems—I don’t know how many it will be—that confronts a decades-long interest in the painter James McNeill Whistler, whose work and whose attitudes pointedly raise the question of abstraction versus representation and whose tempestuous life seems to outwardly embody conflicts that occur, though on a much more subdued and internalized fashion.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.