Wier, Dara

views updated

WIER, Dara

Nationality: American. Born: Dara Ann Dixon, New Orleans, 30 December 1949. Education: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 1967–70; Longwood College, Farmville, Virginia, 1970–71, B.S. 1971; Bowling Green University, Ohio, 1972–74, M.F.A. 1974. Family: One son and one daughter. Career: Assistant professor, Hollins College, Virginia, 1975–80; associate professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, 1980–85. Since 1985 professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Visiting poet, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, 1980, and University of Texas, Austin, 1983; Richard Hugo Memorial Chairholder, University of Montana, Missoula, 1992. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1980; Guggenheim fellowship, 1991–92. Address: 504 Montague Road, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002, U.S.A.



Blood Hook & Eye. Austin, University of Texas press, 1977.

The 8-Step Grapevine. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1980.

All You Have in Common. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1984.

The Book of Knowledge. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1988.

Blue for the Plough. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1992.

Our Master Plan. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1999.

Voyages in English. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001.


Critical Studies: "History and the Transpersonal Talent: Or, 'I'm Just Tired of Reading Guys'" by Richard Katrovas, in New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly (Middlebury, Vermont), 11(3), spring 1989; "Thinking This, Knowing That, in the Present" by William Harmon, in Parnassus (New York), 16(1), 1990.

*  *  *

Dara Wier's poetry is driven by wit and verbal energy. Taking its cues from a range of contemporary poets, Wier's early work drew favorable comparisons to both Anne Sexton and John Berryman. Wier's verbal energy, however, ties her to a much more experimental poetics than either Berryman or Sexton pursued. Frequently Wier's poems cascade down the page in one or two cumulative or periodic sentences; they occasionally eschew formal rules of grammar and syntax and usually are energetic and lively. In addition, the wildly associative capabilities of her work coupled with a penchant for the humorous tie her poetry to that of Ashbery and her colleague at the University of Massachusetts, James Tate. Having drawn all of these comparisons, however, it is important to underscore that, although she is still a relatively young poet, Wier's work is promising and driven by an idiosyncratic, original vision.

Wier's first mature work can be found in Our Master Plan. The poetry up until then is sometimes verbally engaging and sometimes compelling for its emotional candor, but it is seldom as energetic as the later poems. Traces of her contemporaries Sharon Olds and Louise Glück can be found in the early work. To put it another way, although one can see Wier reaching for her individual vision, the earlier poems seldom reach the heights of the later poetry. Our Master Plan is an exceptional book. Incorporating history and contemporary events and objects, the poems achieve a kaleidoscope of wit and emotion. Consider, for example, these lines from the opening of "If I Were a Raptor Cruising through the Timetables of History":

I would want you to come with me into those years
in which it is recorded that nothing happened in
Daily Life, so maybe we could stir something up.
We could listen for the syllables in a famous Arab's
Epic and watch tea appear in China.
Maybe we could warn the alchemists to take better care
of their products.
Like drop-ins to a seance we might enter those eras
in which it is recorded nothing happened in Music.
And say this is impossible.

The energy is apparent. If there is a weakness to the poetry—and to this poem in particular—it is that Wier occasionally conjures up associations that are not always realized in a satisfying manner. Throughout history a raptor has suggested a predatory quality, and although Wier leaves it as a final, conclusive image ("And we'd have to pack our own lunch / because there were no chickens in Babylon"), perhaps this aspect could be better integrated into the poem.

But such quibbles are just quibbles. Wier's collection Voyages in English frequently achieves a verbal splendor, a collapsing energy of syntax and imagery that shoves a reader through the poem in a manner reminiscent of William Everson and Ann Waldman. "Perhaps Died and Gone to Heaven" is a good example:

And when they rolled me over
great storms moved across my breasts
and a terrible accident lay on my ankles,
stories of extortion covered half my neck
and a birth announcement blazed across my face...

The poem builds to the following conclusion:

...and when they searched past the roots of my hair
they felt the stirrings of a liquid music
and found the vault where lost objects are sent
and where words which are not spoken wait
and they turned back to their experiments
and their trials and left it.

Wier's poetry is driven by a "liquid music" that both takes in the world and skirts at breathtaking speed just over the surface of it. Her utilization of a capacious syntax and the energy of accretive sentence structures make for a poetry of force and energy.

—Tod Marshall