I’ve had eye on the three-poem shortbook form that defines PYRAMID Editions. Editor Owen Vince seems to desire a one-sitting encounter, if only for length; in that encountering, an invitation to return and return again with stamina, attending to the poems’ small details and musical texture. One of poetry’s finest capacities is to overwhelm, Outdo, unsettle—in the face of just three poems, we take up the longsword, ready.

My favorite of PYRAMID’s first ‘epoch’ is Andrew Wells’ Jimmy Walks Unbended. Tonally, Wells does something very difficult: he constructs a speaker with Everyman investment—a Jimmy without remarkable setting, no fetish to constrain him, no loveliness—an informal being with acuity nonetheless, defining his speech primarily by reflection-as-frankness. What a jewel frankness has become.

& Jimmy gets drunk at
home / in a dim lounge

—Wells says, as any poet seeking acclaim from magazines might. (True, we glimpse something inspired in ‘dim lounge.’) But then:

gets drunk on singeing
grape juice widow daddy leaves in quarter bottles
on the kitchen counter /

—then. The writing turns away from contemporary poetry’s measling assertion that statements of fact are enough, that the boots of the worker are work; it gambles with the untoward in ‘singeing’ and ‘widow daddy’; it barks, dropping trochees (‘quarter bottles,’ ‘kitchen counter’) without any windup. It implies metric might be a matter of incident, as music might, in the life of Jimmy, ‘his too big [/] size 8 canvas shoes [. . .] caught on criss-cross pavement brambles.’

Wells’ relationship to the speaker is unclear, fraught. The ‘I’ sometimes imposes to great effect, as

don’t you realize / I’m meant to hold
melancholy this—

or

there are pictures in this living room / of places
where I’d rather be

—only to lapse back into third-person omniscience:

widow daddy is a loud man / ex taxi driver on the
job hunt / two interviews a month / he goes / breath
like varnish remover / or not in matching socks / af-
ter / widow daddy comes back to Jimmy / who he
doesn’t like / denting present-tense lyrics in a
square-ruled school-book / with a blunt pencil

The effect is much more striking than the common poignance a reader intuits in her act of recognizing authorial voice-in-voice. There’s a bleak dreaming in it, a dreaming-into unheroic, but undaunted, Jimmy, one that seems below what dreams ought to be. One feels so much of the earthly, austere, sad in it, Jimmy Walks Unbended.

The fact that Wells’ narrative arc is commonly doleful (from dissipated father to wrongsized shoes to girl-that-got-away) only makes his careful appropriation all the more exhilarating. The girl, for example, enters with a strong past-presence, suddenly familiar for Jimmy’s use of an impromptu ‘she’—

& I can’t tell if she’s in that window oppo-
site / brown hair down / longer on one side / slight-
ly wet from a morning shower / no /

Like much of the shortbook, this girl’s return at the end of the collection is marked by a sense of excision, of something we’ve only overheard, the dozen things we’d like to know kept back. I remain curious, jostled, but must follow Jimmy’s intransigence: ‘SO, I just twisted—everything of me—,’ he says, ‘towards a cold, mid-morning sun.’