Few writers can lay claim to the mastery of line-walking between poetry and pop-culture that Jim Warner can. Earlier this year, Warner released Actual Miles (Sundress Publications, 2018), his first collection in a number of years. Warner’s project touches themes of family, memory, and displacement while delivering a consistent stream of vivid settings packed end-to-end with skillful sensory description.
Warner’s works are always rooted in their settings. Though a wide variety of locales are addressed, from fields in the Phillipines to suburban Pennsylvania, it is difficult (if not outright impossible) to find a weakness in Warner’s etchings of place and time. It may seem like a basic achievement; should poets not all have mastery over their settings? Surely, but few accomplish it to the extent of Warner. These masterful depictions are a necessity for Warner’s work, as it pulls the writer from place to place and from time to time.
Warner’s secret weapon can be found in the lush sensory details that decorate every poem. Though, again, a seemingly ubiquitous tool, Warner proves his skill in piece after piece. The visceral nature of the images appeal in their own unique way and always contribute to, rather than detract from, the lyrical quality. Punches are never pulled, and immersive descriptions are plentiful. Some brief examples come in “Allen the fishmonger”: “You grace the fishhook / out of her neck. …”, and in the title piece “actual miles.”, “The moon is ripe with our fingerprints.” Further, in “Therapist Nightmare #1”: “The teacher / walks between / aisles with tongues dangling / from her belt.” or in “tigers and riffles”: “Chords of flame rosary the throat, / you’ve been swallowing arrowheads / by the pound.” These descriptions are incredible on their own, but what sets Warner apart from his contemporaries is his ability to do so while interweaving pop cultural references. Whether it’s Eleanor Rigby, Hüsker Dü, Ziggy Stardust, Black Sabbath, or even the collection title, Actual Miles, the context of Warner’s poems are rarely without a sonic landscape to complement their settings.
Jim Warner’s work is always a pleasure to encounter. It is equal parts lyrical ascent and pop-cultural roadside attraction. The voice in these poems is coherent and well-formed and thrives in approaching its task of spiraling together the disparate experiences that make up a life—across time, space, worldviews, and referents.