Shadow Work deals not so much in the shadows of what we see, but in the shadows of the mind, establishing its intent from its opening poem “Fissure in the Endless Maw.” Warner writes
“I used to think what terrified me of open water was the depth
of the unknown.
What is at the bottom
What terrific and terrible animals lurk,
too sacred and scared to be seen?”
It is his couching of material, visceral matter within this larger context of the mind’s working and unworking that propels this deft, compelling collection down its self-made rabbit holes. While there may not be a bottom to find, there’s certainly much to explore in this fantastical, macabre dance through fields of mental turbulence.
One of the first emulations of shadow appears as desire, Warner noting, “don’t we all / want to stretch our shadow / beyond these dreams we clutch,” thereby pointing to our yearn for connection, even its overshadowing compunction: fame and recognition. Soon after in “Bonfire Euphoria II” he plays with exposure and occlusion in the final lines by admitting “how quickly we’ll shut the door / as soon as we’ve looked in.”
There’s a reason we don’t banish the shadows. Warner is able to toy with this fear, approach it, at times overcome it. Nevertheless it always remains like the abyss beneath a child’s bed. Though we are not children and Shadow Work promises no sleep, no rest.
The Opposite of Silence
“There would be silence / but the mind is so / so loud.” Here, and elsewhere, Warner projects the overwhelming nature of our thoughts to the page. It seems an easy connection in how solitary, how internal the creation of poetry begins before its necessary ooze outward. But these poems do not devolve into monologue, nor do they alienate the reader.
Notably, Warner ensures the writer’s thoughts are the reader’s through an unsettling intimacy. Whatever he thinks, I am forced to contemplate in turn. Yet the darkness of the poetry is given needed levity through this connection as it is obvious that in sharing the darkness with Warner through a hundred-odd pages, we at least can take solace in knowing we are not isolated in or by the experience.
The poise and grace that these poems achieve can be summed near the middle of the collection as the beauty of existence breathes with one lung even as pain obfuscates the other. “Inhale: Everything is temporary. / Exhale: Peace.” Thus, the shadows are not so much something to shy from as they are to be recognized, faced, and used to appreciate our days in the sun.
Lest we become too hopeful, Warner leaves an admonition near the end, knowing how our mental feet can trip us as easily as take us to new heights. “You will want to feel a hand in the dark, / but you won’t know how to say that.”
Shadow Work is published by Lucid House Publishing.