Review: Manifestation Wolverine by Ray Young Bear

To effectively capture the largest moments of our lives — a wedding, a funeral, a heartbreak — we often turn to poetry. Because the strongest poets understand that such emotions aren’t accurately captured with a simple narrative: the rhythm, images, and form need to come together just so in order to capture the moment. Iowa poet Ray Young Bear is one of these life-changing poets because he does just that: with his careful attention to detail and heartbreaking turns of phrases, Young Bear explores delicate matters of identity, spirituality and family with wit, grace and power.

Manifestation Wolverine (Open Road, $18.99) is his recently released collected works, bringing together three previously published books of poetry (Winter of the SalamanderThe Invisible Musician, and The Rock Island Hiking Club), as well as a previously unpublished collection of his latest work.

And while reading the collections separately is satisfying, having them together in one place makes it possible to chart Young Bear’s development as a poet. The poems in the first collection follow a straightforward, daresay minimalist style of the early ’80s, as evidenced in excerpts like:

i rub my face against the window

feeling the change will

never take the place for me

feeling everything i am

it will never be enough.

But as Young Bear continues to grow as a poet, his style becomes more descriptive, more introspective. There is a sense of rawness to his more recent work, as well as a sly playfulness, which is evident in his concrete poetry. “The Rock’s Message,” which is written so the words take the shape of a snapping turtle, is a remarkable juxtaposition of nature’s benevolence against human responsibilities. “Whereas/his father is fourteen, school means I/assume care duties. In the breeze/I sense the apple tree’s shade/emanating a sweet and cool/taste. On my bruises the/ leaves seem to say: you are ok.”

Manifestation Wolverine is a remarkable collection charting the artistic path of a great poet.