The First House

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The First House, a chapbook of poems by Stephen Wallin, is an intriguing, if often challenging, collection. These are poems about the past, and pain and loss. These are words about what’s been gained and, mostly, what’s been lost in life. If stated directly, some of Wallin’s references to violence, destruction, dysfunctional families and abuse could well be viewed as provocative but – in the words of a once popular song, he lays it between the lines.

After reading The First House, I was inspired enough to write a new poem, which is a type of praise for the strong, harsh and sometimes strange reality in Wallin’s world. And, on occasion, his words are a true reflection of reality. For example, in “The Vinyl Man,” he writes of a homeless man: The trick’s in living thin./Ignore the wind./Ignore the gopher in your skin./He’ll gnaw and go./The trick’s in living thin./The day is cellophane./Put on your polyethylene./Stay sane./The trick’s in living thin./I keep my hands in plastic wrap./The world’s a trap./I won’t touch metal or wood./I wear a hood./You should.

I thought this poem was rather fanciful until what occurred the very next morning in downtown Sacramento. I saw a man, living off the street, pull out cellophane wrap from a dumpster. He was wearing a cotton sweatshirt on a warm afternoon, with the hood tucked over his head. He used the wrap to make a second hood to completely cover his head, and used more of it to cover his eyes, the top of his nose, and his hands. Yes, he was just like the man in “The Vinyl Man!”

Wallin makes use of some continuing characters in his poems – such as Anne and Kel, and now and then he surprises the reader with what might be viewed as a touch of humor.

That said, there are a couple of issues with The First House. The first is that Wallin includes a work, “Perseus Speaks,” that runs on for far too long – 22 full pages. “Perseus” would have benefited from an editor’s touch. The second issue arises from Wallin’s ability to craft some beautiful words, as in “Planting:” And after my wife and I/lie among weeds and wild/grass of an unmowed dusk/waiting for night to eat/the purple shadows of plums./At that moment when sun slips/under Earth and stars/far in our eyes ignite/like sure planets, we/reach for each other/pull close, and press/the fading light between us. Why is this an issue? Because Wallin has the skills to also look at the bright side of life; the charms and successes of life – be they minor or major. I am not saying that his work should be all sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, puppy dogs, and kittens, but this individual would look forward to seeing a chapbook from Wallin that contains a somewhat more positive and life-affirming perspective. (Life is indeed tough, but it also offers its well-earned rewards.) Nevertheless, The First House is recommended for general poetry readers.

Reviewed By:

Author Stephen Wallin
Star Count /5
Format Trade
Page Count 60 pages
Publisher Stephen Wallin
Publish Date 2018-Jul-16
ISBN 9781732180215 Buy this Book
Issue November 2018
Category Poetry & Short Stories


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