Joseph P. Wood’s Fold of the Map has a consistency of voice which is at once brutal and reflective, encouraging a range of open associations through a style which can only be described as consistently fragmentary. At times, especially when the poems are read aloud, the speaker flits between a sensory bombardment with descriptions of place and oblique references to anything from Jane Austen to Grand Theft Auto, treading the line between the accessible and the elusive. Certainly, Wood possesses moments of enjoyably sardonic wit, enhanced by a conversational tone which employs the vernacular to accentuate the collection’s ponderings – the personal against the universal, the local within the national, and the productive past against the apathetic present.
“Travel Writing” is one of a handful of prose poems spread throughout the collection which sees the speaker “self-chastising” over his own perceived “dysfunctions” and insecurities, which are reflected and highlighted by his friends. The narrator battles the intellectual and physical malaise of his mid-life inadequacy, announcing “I, too, have morphed, but being me, I can’t say how”. This breakdown of functional adulthood, or perhaps more specifically masculinity, permeates the collection, covering issues of addiction, sexual impotency, insomnia and depression. At times one thinks of Fight Club. The dissatisfaction with consumerist urban America exists rather prominently in the collection as Wood effectively describes the transformed American landscape in poems such as “After Whitman” and the eleven page “Carpetbagging: Tuskegee National Forest Suite”. Tamed and commercialised, America is the land of “irrigated deserts & bankrupt outlet stores” where “the former Walmarts, all Kafka-like, gain homemade Crescents”. Wood places wonderful irony in his denouncement of the cracked facade of corporatism, having one protagonist drive Interstate 10, which stretches from California to Florida, while “Mountain-Dew chased, twitchy”. – a clever metaphor for the transient, disposable lifestyle of interconnected America.
In many ways, Wood seems to actively encourage the reading of his poetry, considering it a difficult but negotiable process with a message to convey. In parts of the collection this is somewhat true, but the problem with such an approach is a resultantly strange lack of delicacy which spoils some of Wood’s most carefully crafted poems. Some titles can be remarkably heavy- handed, although others, such as the aforementioned “Travel Writing”, work perfectly. There is, after all, little subtlety in naming a poem “After Whitman”, particularly when said poem directly asks “But where did I call home in the first place? And why now is it found?” This clumsiness tends to dispel any desirable lingering ambiguity and coerces the reader to think in terms of urbanised settings and alienating commercialism.
Thankfully, Wood’s collection does venture further afield in poems such as the entertainingly titled “Jesus Christ, Your Uterus” which presents the surreal image of the Chinese diving team being forced to perform blindfolded for the “sadistic satisfaction” of their masters. They “look nothing like athletes/ rather, like
malnourished swallows” yet they “start to haemorrhage question marks” and through the skilful manipulation of both water- and animal-based imagery, Wood arrives at the titular “space you never dreamed, hanging”. There is a fascination with bodily functions throughout the collection –, ranging from expressions of oppression to the very mundane, or even to connect the passage of time and memory, as seen in the inventive “After Baiku”, where Wood writes “Snow fell: dandruff, confetti”.
At times his text is literally fragmented across the page and at other times written as prose poetry. Wood’s collection is structurally diverse and intriguing – several poems concern the same place or image and therefore may be read to chart the same speaker’s progression . Whilst far from flawless, there is real depth of meaning, if not of feeling, in Fold of the Map, a collection which works best at its most sarcastically alienated from an America which Wood clearly believes to be worth saving.