London Grip Poetry Review – Wade Stevenson



Poetry review – THE DEPARTURE SONATAS: Charles Rammelkamp finds Wade Stevenson’s approach to mortality to be both lyrical and wise


The Departure Sonatas
Wade Stevenson 
BlazeVOX [books], 2024
ISBN: 978-1-60964-470-3
82 pages    $18.00

The four long poems that make up Wade Stevenson’s breathtakingly mystical new collection amount to a sweet farewell that is as always in his verse, an affirmation of love. Toward the end of the final sonata, he writes:

But somewhere out there 
Will appear a secret sign
A hieroglyph written deep in the air
Etched in the heart’s invisible bone
Revealing against a dawning sky
A triumph over earthly doom
In big black indelible letters

Amor – love – has always been at the heart of Stevenson’s message. In his recent collections, Love at the End and in In the Country of the Peregrine, Stevenson extols Amor, the life-sustaining love at the heart of life’s journey. Indeed, The Departure Sonatas reaffirm this journey, as the title of his new collection likewise suggests. From what, after all, does the poet suggest a departure?

‘The last word you write / Will never be the last word,”’ he writes in “FIRST SONATA,” no ultimate and final goodbye. All merges into “that one final word.” Amor.

For Stevenson, as he approaches the age of 80, is clearly thinking of his own eventual departure. He writes:

In a silent, satori moment
I find myself connected to a word 
That’s bigger than its improbable meaning 
To exist in the word and beyond the word 
In a fathomless field of being

In reviewing his life thus far, he recalls his parents, his loves, his poetry, his love of language and meaning, and finally sums up the first sonata:

I’m ready to say goodbye to the memory 
Of my feelings, finally free of emotions
To embrace the light that shines

Thus, we’re invited to read these poems as a welcoming as much as a departure. In Love at the End, Stevenson had described life’s journey as an exile, which begins at birth, the goal, as with Odysseus, being to return. Thus, the mystical twists of meaning blend seamlessly throughout Stevenson’s work.

In “SECOND SONATA” Stevenson takes on death, which is the ultimate departure, but like Whitman he embraces it.

Dance, death!
I’ll hold your hand
I’ll even help you up
If by chance you stumble

‘Rip the curtain, void the veil’ he writes later in the poem: ‘bring it on.’

Indeed, even as his poems exemplify, the journey – call it a departure – is as much a riddle as it is revelation. ‘Going from word to word, soon / You are caught in a language labyrinth,’ he writes at the start of “THIRD SONATA.” ‘No way out, no way in.’. Or, to put it another way:

You’re just another existential transient 
Running as fast as you can
To outrace your multiple phantoms 

Life is a constant redefinition and revision, all wrapped up in Amor. Are we always saying goodbye, then? Is that the meaning behind the ultimate Zen koan? Stevenson hints at this dual motion throughout the sonatas.

“THIRD SONATA” ends with the statement:

I’m so ready to say goodbye 
To everything I know 
What I knew or loved
Has made me who I am
I also know it’s not easy to die 
But I need to escape from the “me”
Who is no longer who I am

With “FOURTH SONATA” we sense a reconciliation, an acceptance. ‘Submit / To the wonder of what you took for granted.’ Thus, Stevenson gracefully brings the muted turbulence of departure to a restful end. Having reaffirmed the ascendency of Amor, the love that envelops us all, Stevenson is at last ready to set sail, to depart, indeed. But who knows? The final stanzas of this heartfelt epic spell it out:

			But I may return
When once again
			Buds bloom
The earth is spring goes boom!

The Departure Sonatas are as full of wisdom as they are of lyrical expression.