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Farrah Field.Wolf and Pilot. Four Way Books, 2012.

In Farrah Field’s stunning second collection of poems, Wolf and Pilot, challenges to traditional narrative structures are presented within the guise of more conventional literary forms. Although she offers us pristine couplets, tercets, and quatrains, as well as the occasional prose paragraph, Field creates a provocative splintering of traditional narrative beneath this unassuming surface. It is this discontinuity between form and content that makes her poetry so compelling. Throughout Wolf and Pilot, Field’s formal decisions complicate the content of her work, resulting in a book that lends itself to careful attention and rewards frequent re-readings.

Field’s use of couplets in the collection is especially noteworthy. The uniform, neatly organized stanzas create an expectation on the part of the reader that the work will be just as lucid and straightforward. Yet Field adeptly undermines this readerly expectation, prompting a reevaluation of the assumptions we bring to literary texts. In many ways, the poems in Wolf and Pilot foster more open-minded reading practices, cautioning us against forming judgments about what is possible within a literary text on the basis of its appearance. For example, Field writes in “The Girls Approach the Fence”:

Detective, we think you’re afraid of spiders. You’d be surprised
to know what things are in your shed. We think you should
     feed us.
No one will ever know. Preserves, beets—anything you don’t
We’ll put the crumbs in our pockets. We’ll drink lime soda.
We won’t tell anyone your middle name…

Here Field’s tightly constructed stanzas and grammatically impeccable sentences lead us to expect a linear, and hence straightforward narrative. But within these received forms of discourse, she presents us with a provocative fragmentation of meaning. We encounter all of the components of a traditional narrative: a protagonist, an impending conflict, and the tangible details of everyday life. What’s fascinating about this passage is that narrative in the strict sense of the word never materializes. The reader is largely unaware of the significance of not only the “beets” and “preserves” that appear, but also the characters’ interactions as well. Wolf and Pilot is filled with wonderful poems like this one, that prove just as evocative as they are finely crafted.
With that in mind, her approach to narrative is innovative in that she demands a more active role on the part of the reader. Rather than imagining the author as giving meaning to a reader who passively receives it, Field invites the audience to participate actively in the creation of meaning. In many ways, it is the reader who actualizes Field’s text as he or she forges connections between the suggestive fragments with which they are presented. Indeed, Field’s poems are remarkable in that they democratize the function of the author, namely as the text becomes a collaboration between artist and audience. Consider “Emaline Develops an Attachment”:

You always turn a street too soon by my mother’s house.
This is what it’s like to be bored in summer,
to sit cross-legged and wish you hadn’t
in the heavy air with no approaching future
except kiwi…

In passages like this, Field conceals more than she reveals. The reader is left to speculate as to the nature of the attachment (is it a person to whom Emaline has become attached? A place? An object?), as well as the relationship between the speaker and the mysterious “you” that appears throughout the piece. By leaving so much unsaid, Field leaves space for the reader’s imagination in a way that is both theoretically provocative and aesthetically pleasing. Many of the poems in Wolf and Pilot prove similar in that they afford the possibility of a more egalitarian relationship between the poet and his or her reader, dazzling us with their evocative imagery and lyrical astuteness all the while. In short, Field’s Wolf and Pilot is a book that’s as thought-provoking as it is beautifully rendered. This is a stunning second collection from a wonderful poet, and a fine addition to her accomplished body of work. Field is a poet to watch.

—Kristina Marie Darling