Published by Hub City Press in 2016, J.K. Daniels’ Wedding Pulls was selected by C.D. Wright as the winner of The New Southern Voices Prize
Review by Melanie Tague
Daniels’ Wedding Pulls is a collection rooted first and foremost in place, that place being New Orleans. Daniels uses place not only to ground her readers, but to present them with culture rich in tradition. Beginning with the proem “On St. Charles Ave.” Daniel’s sets the reader up for what to expect throughout the book: highly sonic, highly image driven poetry that explores not only New Orleans, but the institution of marriage and the traditions (i.e. wedding pulls) that surround it in New Orleans.
New Orleans seems not only to function both as an important background element throughout each of Daniels’ poems, but also as one of the many characters/voices we encounter within the collection.
In “As the Wench” readers encounter a voice that could be not only the wench’s but the voice of New Orleans’s as well: “call me ‘mermaid’ when you mean / you cannot abide by my oceany stench / going on about my eyes / my eyes and the pearls…” the same poem ends with a famous line from Eliot’s “Wasteland” that adds an ominously powerful ending to the poem, making the reader question how the speaker really feels about not only their circumstance, but also how the speaker feels about New Orleans, “I can see how the napkin looks like a winding sheet / No you’re not whining but / hurry up now please it’s time.”
Throughout the entirety of the book Daniels looks to sonics. Looking at “As Madame Maintenant” she relies heavily on the repetition of “e” and “m” sounds that morph into including the “s” sound: “every monk, every organ grinder, and mange-eaten monkey, every / sausage-maker mincing gizzards mumbles// Madame, Mistress, whoremonger, whore. Some midsummer’s kiss // misconstrued, I’m misheard, I misstep, mis-/take what is not mine or am misled, and I am missing a miss//”
Daniels is not just relying on language, she is playing with it, she is playing with our expectations for what language looks like, sounds like, where it goes, and how it makes meaning.
In the first poem of the collection “On St. Charles Ave.” Daniels teaches the reader what to expect from her collection: a series of stark images that will explore marriage and tradition and implements a form that allows images to stand on their own and together, “among fluted columns gilded cupid’s convex mirrors of the hotel bar// you’re fasting to fit the dress red velvet cushions //Rosalind and her new husband enter hair translucent as chicken broth…”
There is so much more that could be said about Wedding Pulls, but I believe, as with any good collection of poetry the meanings and innerworkings of the poet’s mind should be left in the eye of the beholder. I sincerely hope all of our readers will take a moment to look at this collection and find their own way into, go on an adventure in New Orleans.
Melanie Tague is a recent graduate from George Mason University’s MFA program. Her work has been previously published or is forthcoming in journals such as: The Cincinnati Review, burntdistrict, Portland Review, and Blue Earth Review.
Featured Image: Wedding from Pexels
Book Image of Wedding Pulls: from Hub City Press