Of course, such a grand sweeping word as phenomenal fails to do Wil Gibson’s work, in his most recent published collection, any justice whatsoever. It’s my belief that a simpler word might better suffice, if only for the phenomenal simplicity of what Wil’s words make you feel. An oxymoronic statement, maybe, but it’s just that — the beautiful simplicity — which Wil brings to both written and performance poetry.
It’s his most recent publication with Swimming With Elephants Publications, Quitting smoking falling in and out of love, and other thoughts about death that draws close that beautiful simplicity. As life-changing as an arrival to a safe haven, or a departure from the only place you’ve ever known, reading this book was like coming home, wherever home may be. With a broad array of landscapes and cities throughout the United States mentioned, I felt a strong sense of connection to place in reading. It was, undoubtedly, a journey; more than that, it was a pilgrimage.
For that reason, this book needs to be savoured (like a cigarette, if you will, or five after you’ve quit for the umpteenth time). Not to say I didn’t have the urge to rush through each part and eat it all up, but I found it most enjoyed as a slow read, taking the time to dog-ear pages and underline phrases that struck me (and as I say to many writers: sorrynotsorry for dog-earring books, for lack of post-its to use as markholders, and for marking up your books — this, to me, is a testament of love for the work put in, as I find connection to it).
The contrast and connection between each section was so well-constructed, from a writing and editing standpoint, I could certainly see the love that was put into this book, too. From the numbered poems and the slow stream of falling in love over and over again in the first part, The part where I fall in love and a bunch of people I love die to the numbered days in the second part, The part where I quit smoking and more people I love die that are almost comical at times in their display (days 16-18, especially; any smoker or former smoke can certainly relate to the feeling of fuck you that Wil puts so adequately on the page), a conversational tone carries throughout.
Thinking back to when I first heard Wil perform, it’s that conversational tone that holds him as one of my most highly recommended poets for anybody first entering the slam/performance poetry scene; I believe there’s something unique in drawing your audience in without the grandeur of the typical “slam voice.” Instead, Wil’s poetry has always offered this drift back to something reminiscent of the “original” spoken word artists of the Beatnik movement. But there’s that modern touch of artistry in his work, too.
It’s in The part where I fall out of love and more people I love die where Wil’s artistry as a written poet really shines. With unexpected construct like the poem titled simply as Purple, to the constant self-recognition of using cliches to his best ability (and the simple notion of the necessity of cliches), there’s a heartwrenchingly beautiful notion presented in the level of vulnerability that Wil provides in the third and closing part of his collection. Here is vulnerability as a lover, as a smoker, as a writer, as a human. And isn’t that what writing really needs to be? Vulnerable conversations, the shared recognition that we’re all cliches, we’re all just quitting something to start again, that we’re all falling in and out of love with ourselves constantly; Wil’s poetry reminded me that we’re all on a phenomenal pilgrimage through life, and we’ll get there whenever we damn well please (and maybe quit smoking, eventually).
In parting, I would tell anybody skeptical not to be swayed by the ominous title of Wil’s most recent book; instead, let it be an offering that allows you to feel absolutely, phenomenally, simply… human.
You can find Wil’s book on Amazon and Goodreads, along with other books in the Swimming With Elephants Publications family. And don’t forget to keep up with him on his website and Instagram as he continues to tour and scatter his words across the country.