The book, Everything Turns Into Something Else (Grayson Books, 2020) hits readers directly in their heart center. This collection of brutal poetry spans animals to touch; covers glass to the heaviness of being while lodging teeth inside lungs, leaving organs lopsided. Jeanne Wagner takes us on a ride that fills our entire heart-centers. From speaking about the gaze of dogs to discussing emotional turns historical characters make, Wagner allows us access into a special world where the minutia of everything comes alive, and where readers can lean into spaces that challenge and inspire them to think in new and non-binary ways.
In the opening poem, “Dogs That Look Like Wolves,” Wagner interrogates the symbolism between wolf and dog, how the two echo one another. The speaker of this poem asserts, “I’ve always loved dogs that look like wolves, / loved stories of wolves: the alphas, the bullies, the bachelors.” Wagner helps readers explore the ways in which dogs are compared to other things, how they occupy and change space.
Each of Wagner’s poems explores a motif of noticing. Whether Wagner is exploring the way things feel, how things resonate in the world, or simply how things transform and turn into “something else,” the writing is stunning, evocative, and perplexing. Wagner invites us into thinking about how we participate in our humanity alongside other living and breathing entities. Each poem operates as a separate entity, inside of a container, and spans its own lifetime. Wagner illustrates the extent of their emotional deftness, how their images give life to a myriad of feelings including sadness, hunger, pain, and love. Wagner is bold in the assertion of urgency and in how they conjure a sense of things that happens outside of the page completely.
Wagner’s writing encourages readers to lean into their own minds, to melt into their bodies as the words are being read. Readers are challenged to see beyond the lens of the words, to see beyond the worlds in which the stanzas live. Wagner forces us to bend as the poetry, too, bends, as we are implored to continue looking further. The beauty of Wagner’s writing is that it keeps us dreaming, it keeps us balancing reality and the space we go right before we fall asleep. Wagner doesn’t let us forget for one second the sharpness of the tongue that is used, how Wagner vividly describes to us the very heart and essence of what is happening before us. Wagner’s writing cuts us open and halves us—it forces us to sit with our humanity in new and confronting ways.
The hallmark of this poetry collection is centered around the usage of the everyday riddled with the fantastical, how a single thought is expanded into a micro-story. The hallmark of Wagner’s poetry takes to places where the entities of the poems are journeys and destinations contained inside themselves. Wagner does not give us the privilege of a quiet read; we are forced to reckon with parts of our humanity that might be hurt. We are forced to lap up the darkness, to submerge ourselves in the parts of us that might not be congruent with who we want to be.
Wagner begs us all to occupy a different perspective, to see things through a new lens. Wagner invites us into worlds completely new and fascinating, and allows us to move through its time at our own pace. This collection is raw. These collections make us emotionally bleed. These collections are not here to make us comfortable, but rather to help us confront the reality of ourselves. Wagner supports us in letting ourselves dare to dream, and to consider things beyond the scope of what we are used to.
The best part of this book is how Wagner keeps us hanging on every word until the end. There is no shortage of shock or electricity throughout this collection. Readers are hooked onto every line, are immersed in the world of topics. There is diversity and such innovative language used in this piece—it never fails to put things for us right in our faces. The speaker in the poem, “A Personal History of Glass” speaks about how ice forms its own relationship with the body, changing it and putting it through its own unique chemical process.
These poems require our attention, they exist on the page and inside of us as well. Wagner does what so many brilliant writers do, makes something live on inside of us long after we have read it on the page. Wagner allows all of us to exist in a space within and outside of ourselves. These pieces bring us closer to our individual selves and our collective selves. These pieces help us to understand ourselves through a lens that saves us from our comfort—allowing us to dig deep and stay there.
Sabrina Sarro is a social worker in the state of NY. They hold an LMSW from Columbia University and are currently pursuing an MFA from the City College of New York—CUNY. As a queer non-binary writer of color, they are most interested in investigating the intersectionalities of life and engaging in self-reflection and introspection. They are an alumnus of the LAMBDA Literary Emerging Voices for LGBTQIA* Writers Retreat, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Yale Writers’ Workshop, and many others. They have received scholarships from The Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.