Earning TRUST: Lori A. May on Liz Waldner’s Trust


Trust, Liz Waldner, Cleveland State University Poetry Center

I hate to judge a book by its cover, but something about the fantastic imagery of Liz Waldner’s Trust told me I was in for something unique, quirky, and breathtaking. The cover told the truth. Waldner’s poetic form and lyricism center on the metaphysical, the insane, and the awkwardly familiar. Trust is Waldner’s seventh collection of poems and is also the 2008 winner of The Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Competition.

Waldner’s work searches for truth, the kind “We hope to see through (to) / Always,” as announced in her opening poem “Truth, Beauty, Tree.” It is this search for honesty and her uncovering of the reason behind it all that Waldner shakes up our world and lets us know what lies behind its protected walls. Life is not always pretty, nor should it be.

Through this journey of discovery, we are lured into conversations with the living, though often not human, beasts of the world. Such is the case with “Novice,” in which we find the speaker conversing with the natural landscape,

The baby maples hold out their hands:
“As you can see, there is nothing to see that you cannot see.”

I forgive them. I only wish that I were so certain.

The ant has no back. He is three beads.
Strung on an impetus that means “Everything is necessary.”

He means ‘for me’ where “me” means “him.” I believe him.

What Waldner paints with this dialogue is an understanding of naivety and a desire for forgiveness of such newness amongst the earth. The narrator here is open to learning, open to discovery, and it is with such interactions there is opportunity to understand the role of the self. In Waldner’s poetic dialogues, naivety is not a fault; it is a platform for learning.

Indeed, Waldner aims to embrace the novelty of youth and naivety through presentations of the narrator amidst the world, the earth, discovering qualities of life and its cycles while the rest of society goes on with everyday business. In “Coming Through, It Got Nice,” a perplexing glimpse of changing seasons catches the narrator in a time warp of inexplicable, but beautiful, metamorphoses:

I thought trees’ leaves went red and then Fall.
But here’s wine-red and big in Spring.
And the red-gold sun in them, not on.
Above me in one, one sucked the sky
As if it were teeth, its teeth.
No wonder I was nervous standing there,
The whole world and me watching
Me not know ought to do anymore.

As one reads Trust, it is hard not to imagine Alice walking through Wonderland. Despite the complexity of Waldner’s visions, her work presents a childlike sense of discovery. During many of the fantastic dialogues shared between the narrator and earth-creatures, it’s half-expectant to come across an existential game of question and answer that goes something like this: “Why” “Because it is so.”

Through unearthly imagery and sparse words, Waldner paints a human existence unconcerned with conformity. Her narrator is often on the outside, marginalized, wondering what perplexities are buried on the inside, though only so curious as to uncover a truth which seems so obvious in her narrator’s journey before abandoning any attempt to immerse herself further.

But if all this causes the reader to wonder how the work can be interpreted and related to one’s own life experience, there is no need for concern. Waldner surprises with her humor and slices of life that can touch even the most cubicle-oriented person. The experience of “In Some Respects Invisible, She Greets the Poet,” Waldner provides wisdom that’s applicable to anyone in life: “You have to know a body first not to recognize her later.” Again, such painted worlds create a disconnect between the known beings and unknown beings and place the narrator in a quest to find truth, free from judgment, and free from masks.

Too, Waldner explores the meaning of place and of belonging, and of home. In “Taking the Air,” the narrator reflects on life after a car crash and the rediscovery of what constitutes normalcy,

I could sometimes stand to slow down
Sometimes get out in a strange small town
And walk through its evening air

To a house waiting
For me to find it
My toothbrush already waiting in it
My shoes at the foot of a me-shaped bed
And a curtained window
Slightly ajar.

In this, Waldner asks the question: When you no longer recognize your life, how can you recognize yourself? Such prodding questions and introspections of the human experience are open for debate; amidst the earthling creatures and mystical experiences, Waldner’s narration always places the question and threats of humanity back into the hands of the human. In the end, as in the opening of “Forked Song,” the reader will nod along as the narrator says with conviction, “I am the one who is here,” and later, “The world fits me.”

Whether comedic or metaphysical, fantastic or realistic, Waldner seeks out a superior level of truth in Trust. As in the poem “With the Tongues of Angels” we read, “Perspective won’t do,” Waldner encourages an inquisition and the digging deeper of reality. Her narration questions face value and seeks to enliven the earth’s surface in a quest for discovering a place for humanity. Trust offers escapism amidst reality, and realism amidst the fantastic.

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