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Review: Everything Reminds You of Something Else by Elana Wolff

Meta Power: Metamorphosis and Metaphor in Wolff’s Poetic World

Elana Wolff’s Everything Reminds You of Something Else invites us to enter a poetic world where every word is heavy with meaning. Every poem in the collection moves us to pause and think critically about our lives. In particular, as we open the door of this world, come in, and close it softly behind us, we may realize that our key to finding our way is through connections. Every poem we read pushes us to forge powerful connections and draw lines even if they are just lines in the sand. What is interesting is that the book helps us grasp the value and power of metaphor. Suddenly, the simplest ideas become absolutely essential for us both to understand and evaluate. In our modern-day reality, staying connected may seem absolutely vital for us. We must make connections between ideas. Wolf’s poetry collection revives our interest in ideas that we might have forgotten about. In fact, I believe that the value of this book lies precisely in its focus on connections. The book opens with a series of quotes one of which is from Kafka’s The Trial. The quotation comes at the end of the novel where K. is speaking to the chaplain. The chaplain tells him, “Your anxiety … I see in it a lack of necessary faith” (ix). Every poem in the book pushes us to realize the miraculous power of faith without which we are simply not alive, not in the fullest sense of the word. Essentially, every poem offers commentary on the power of faith.

One of the themes that some of the poems emphasize is the healing influence of prayer. The poems help us realize that prayer has more power than we may think. We get the sense that it could help us find a voice, an outlet for the pain inside. In “A Panegyric,” we realize that no matter how sincerely we plead and ask to be healed, our prayers could only end up torturing us. The act of praying can potentially free us from slavery but, for that, we need to find a way to escape our oppressors. The poem’s message also lies precisely in its focus on the strength of the prayer. In addition, the silent prayer in our hearts cannot fail to finally find an outlet for self-expression.Wolff writes that “[t]he pursuers withdraw to the citadel, / relieve their arms of upward gesture / Dusk descends / they lower their heads as well” (ix). In these lines, we sense that the pursuers are looking for peace, a chance to raise their arms in prayer and heal the pain inside. As we read, we may feel the urge to find healing, to finally get comforted. What this poem and many others seem to be telling us is that prayer has the power to do just that — to heal our pain and to help us find hope in the end.

In addition, some of the other poems in the book call on us to question what is real and unreal for us. One of the poems suggests that reality could actually not be material, after all. According to the poem “Air,” “Most of what is real is immaterial” (25). Consequently, we must look beyond our material reality in order to understand what is real. What the poem does not do is help us find a solution, a way to mitigate the pain. The speaker suggests that “[i]f you can accept air, you can accept beings of air; / you can accept the shadow / air holds in its nothingness and its light” (25). She places an enormous responsibility on our shoulders. We must try to look beyond our material reality and experience the world around us through more than just our senses. The speaker goes even further to suggest that we can and probably should accept both air and shadow as well as the inhabitants of both realms. The poem urges us to stop clinging blindly to our material reality and focus on seeing with our mind’s eye, Wordsworth’s “inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude.” Even though the airy realm in the poem may be difficult for us to relate to, we must try to accept both beings of light and shadow.  

Some of the poems discuss the theme of metamorphosis. It is one of the central themes that they share. One of the poems specifically addresses metamorphosis, especially the process of slowly becoming human. In the poem “Metamorphoses,” the speaker argues that “[s]ome are born human, most have to humanize slowly, / I want to say I’m on my way > at this point, pelican; / in time, perhaps, writer” (8). These lines might really surprise us, since the idea of working on becoming human might sound completely disorienting. It even seems incongruous that we must work on becoming human when we are supposed to have been born that way. The idea of metamorphosis, however, implies that as we grow and educate ourselves, we gradually become human. In other words, the central message seems to be that we should keep working on ourselves. Eventually, if we work hard enough, we might become human. While this idea may disorient us, its merit lies precisely in how hard the individual works in order to become an intelligent human and not just a mammal who is trying to survive. In the speaker’s case, she says that she slowly acquires human form as she metamorphoses from pelican to writer. The only issue is that the poem does not explain why some of us are born human, while others have to humanize.

The poetry collection motivates us to stretch our minds so we can see connections between our own experiences and the themes in these poems. We take our humanity for granted. We do not imagine that we have to actually work on becoming human. The poems, however, push us to realize that this process is as important as being alive. Not only must we work on humanizing. We could even attempt to see life like in a dream and strive hard to realize that “The great thing is the no thing that is not” (9). In other words, greatness is something we have not attained yet and have not been able to so far — not just yet. Nonetheless, the possibility exists for us and we could get closer to it by making connections. Metaphor is our key. We must give our imagination free reign. Perhaps, in the end, we still may attain clarity. 

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