Woke is a cipher. One that, for much of its reading, was unclear whether I would find the solution for. But when the chips were down and the chapbook revved into its final poem, screaming across the punctuation of its final line, the shadows fell away from this mysterious, macabre, weighty chapbook and I was left with the bright realization that it not only made sense. It made good poetry.
Channeling the Morose Side of Existence
Daniel Warner spends much of this collection in prose poetry, a technique that bordered on bloated in one-off instances but which ended up providing a weight to this work that chapbooks sometimes lack. Beyond its weightiness, Woke channels the morose, near-nihilistic side of existence, something this collection provokes from the beginning in the titles of its first three poems, each of which involve citing Aubrey Plaza’s name, from which it is inconceivable not to envision her most famous character, April Ludgate, from Parks and Recreation.
Generally in prose poetry, I lean toward an examination of the whole versus singular line, yet there are times when a line of Warner’s popped from the page, clamoring for notice in the greater narrative construct. For instance, in “Frame by frame the past sheds like skin”, Warner posits “and what is movement but / a string of memories.” The next poem “Black Swan” ends by noting “The world is a silence of flutters and honks that no one talks about.” And “Mother Earth” concludes with “These things do not always start with violence.”
Toward the Big Picture
Beyond the individual nuggets of genius, many of the poems herein contain elements of magical realism that, while obviously vital to what each poem sets out to do, don’t always lead to a bigger payoff within each poem. Thus, at face value, any individual poem can feel opaque, almost needlessly so, until you begin to connect each narrative, each judder of mystery back to the larger frame.
With that bigger picture in mind, it is easy to read this chapbook’s title as a priori to the existence of these poems whose existence then feels manic, whose characters verge on deranged at or least reality-challenged. But this is an assumption the final poem dashes to bits as it reveals what the whole trippy journey has been about. Woke had nothing to do with the beginning state of this chapbook and everything to do with its end state that finds its culmination in the poem “He awoke”, whose ending line I refrain from spoiling since it deserves original discovery but which so perfectly unites the rabid dance twirled by each poem into a hypnotizing coherence.
Ultimately, Woke provides an experience that it can be easy to disorient in. But if you take the time to measure its entirety, to view the mosaic Warner creates through these thirty-odd pages, it becomes an experience to rival any chapbook in existence.