Reading through Liz Worth’s new collection titled The Truth is Told Better This Way reminded me of my first encounter with season one of American Horror Story: both are elegantly macabre and achingly visceral. These snapshots of a collective wound build toward a depiction of damage in its entirety. Throughout, it proved captivating, challenging, and endlessly readable.
She begins with an elemental derangement of hope, in the cheekily titled Part One: Aspirations. The even more tellingly titled first poem of the collection is “Suburban wilds: a self-portrait”, and begins by declaring: “My catch-all phrase: / I’m fine / I’m fine / I’m fine.” The rest of the book strips back all semblance of fine from the character at the heart of these poems, each a sort of episodic blip on humanity’s experiential map. Endlessly easy to connect to (though no less human or wryly emotional), the poems vary between displaying the morose, chemistry-experiment-gone-wrongness of the absurd failings inherent in attempted human connection and relationships with pockets of hopefulness, the palest answers culled from the echo-chamber of haunting disappointment.
These poems feel good to live with as a reader. Reminding me of the doldrums we sink to but told in such a charismatic, deft verbiage that each piece radiates with linguistic poise. When Worth says, “This oath—it’s volcanic,” I am reminded of how poetry is energy compacted, how poetry is volcanic, and how sometimes the best expression of pain blooms into literature. The prestidigitation in a line like, “I empty my pockets. Out comes all that I have broken,” strikes deeply at the bewildering level of pathos these pages contain. But not the tragic kind. The poignant kind.
While a poetry collection need not build toward a pinnacle or be thematically linked, what Worth accomplishes in the order and thrust of these poems is incredible. Each builds on the last and while still each would prove a beautiful construct if in isolation, together they form a complete project wherein I felt no poem wasted as I often do in a book poems where I might take every fourth poem and leave the rest. One hundred percent of these poems were justified and quality. Each might be read as a short story or prose poem. Together, they form a mosaic, which by the end was more powerful than most epic novels that have traced a character arc across years and generations.
The character at the epicenter of these poems’ constant quake and nerve seems to linger with this line: “I thought it meant something to hang on.” Upon reaching the end of a book of poems, I always think: did it mean something for me to read this, for the author to write this? I can categorically say that when it comes to Liz Worth’s The Truth is Told Better This Way, the answer is absolutely yes.
The Truth is Told Better This Way was published by Book Thug in October, 2017.