The delight of any selected works should be variety and range. The Church of Omnivorous Light, the first volume of Wrigley’s to be published in the UK, does not disappoint. Drawn from over thirty years of poetic output, Wrigley’s voice encompasses: the natural and the social, the personal and the public, the sensual and the intellectual.
The aptly named opening poem, “Lull”, describes the aftermath of a tornado — a world where nature has unleashed its power, a world turned, quite literally, upside down: “houses gave in / to vacuum, the river frothed / and leaped. And catfish / studied the intricacies of rafters.” This “lull” however is only a temporary respite from the elements that, even as we read, are regrouping for the next “crescendo”. Similarly, the ease with which the quotidian can slip into the exceptional is present in a number of other poems. In “Heart Attack”, a father roughhousing with his son suffers a heart attack: “ Throwing his small , blond son / into the air, he begins to feel it / a slow motion quivering . . . and his arms go leaden and prickled, and he knows / the sound is no longer laughter / but wheezing”. Or in “The Sound Barrier” where an ordinary day becomes extraordinary: “In 1961 I was dreaming baseball / when the bomb of air blew up. The bed / lurched, I raised my head to hear the windows / clattering in their frames”.
Many poems in this collection concern the natural world and our place within it. For me, Wrigley’s lucid, unsentimental approach makes these poems the most successful. In “Skull of a Snowshoe Hare” the skull moves from being simply the physical remains of the creature: “I found it in the woods, moss-mottled, / hung at the jaws by a filament / of leathery flesh” to an “heirloom” sitting on his son’s desk and ultimately a “sign that life goes on / without us”. In “The Longing of Eagles”, he ponders the “sweet uncomplicated essence of instinct” in relation to the random cruelty of humans: “I would bet every word I love, the shot / that felled it was fired by a man”.
The social and political landscape of the US has provided a backdrop for much of Wrigley’s work. In his 1991 volume, What My Father Believed, he reflects on his position as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and the resulting tension with his father: “Man of his age, he believed in the things / built by men, the miracles of rockets and bombs, / of dams and foundries, the mind killing efficiency of assembly lines”. He returns to similar themes in Beautiful Country (2010) but broadens his critique. The poems express both the joys and irritations of American life. “Hay Day” relates the arrival of the fresh rounds of sweet hay to a field of horses. “Beautiful, the nine–hundred-pound round bale of smooth brome the grower and I roll from the back of his truck against the usual tree”. The speaker watches the horses “nip … the greenest, sweetest stuff from the wound center” as he sits on his porch sipping his cool beer. But such pastoral idylls are under threat. The poem “County” catalogues many of the horrors of modern America: “Target-poor country, Walmart holyland, / malodorous pulp mill and paper plate county. / Country of the hundred yard drive to the post office, / oddly familiar faces among the wanted posters”.
Beyond the political and philosophical, Wrigley’s poems are often humorous and tender. The poem “A Lock of Her Hair” reshapes the love token into a love rap: “As a hoodoo-voodoo, get- you-back-to-me tool, / this hank’s thankless task is vast / . . . / my world in a curl, girl, this man oh man half man I am / when you’re gone”.