The last line of Daneen Wardrop’s first book of poems, The Odds of Being, puts the entire volume into perspective and effectively captures the spirit that drives most (if not all) poets to do what they do: “I want what is not tantamount.” In this case, the poet comes to her realization after seventeen attempts at capturing the essence of a pear. Together, these attempts amount to something akin to linguistic Cubism; the true essence or spirit of the pear begins to emerge only in the aggregate, for despite the fruit’s deceptive simplicity, conjuring it via the written word is no small task. For one thing, it’s impossible to discuss pears without invoking Carvaggio, or so the poem insists, which is to say that it’s also impossible to discuss a pear without discussing all of its attendant baggage. Which is also to say that we can’t discuss anything without dragging a whole host of linguistic skeletons out of the closet along with the words we’re using to discuss whatever it is we wanted to discuss in the first place.
A pear is not a pear, it turns out. Or, more accurately, the language we use to understand a pear, to convey the essence of a specific pear in a specific place in a specific moment in time, can only fall short of its task. Perhaps this is why the the poem’s narrator envies her infant daughter, whose pre-linguistic perspective equates to a kind of prelapsarian innocence: “She points to the pear,/presence without word for her./No cum, no phylum.” Yet as much as the mother/poet envies the daughter’s unmediated experience of the world around her, she also revels in the prospect of connecting with the child (and with the world at large as well), a possibility that hinges entirely on the very thing that separates her from the child. That is, language.
The poet’s ambivalence toward language is clear throughout The Odds of Being. It is both the means by which we connect and the obstacle that separates us. Rather than seeing this solely as a problem, Wardrop, like all of the best poets, revels in the opportunity to do beautiful and creative things with the stuff that separates the tantamount from the actual. That is, she builds wonderful, cloud-like bridges between both states, knowing full well that though the gap will never be closed, the attempt is what marks us as human.