Written Life by Jim Landwehr. eLectio Publishing, 2015
Review by Ashley Ehman
Poetry is poised with the opportunity to show life to its readers in a unique and unexpected way by making the expected new again. Often, writers fall short of this goal, having muddled their intentions with poor word choice and awkward form. However, this is not the case in Jim Landwehr’s Written Life, a collection of poems focusing on the aspects of life that make it worth living. Throughout the pages of his book, the reader is greeted with fascinating analogies, pleasant subject matter, and unending wittiness showcased through his clever word choice and thematic directions.
Within the pages of the book itself, the reader is greeted with an assembly of different sections making the themes and ideas written about in each obvious to its audience. The sections are: “On Home,” “On Place,” “On Pets,” “On Life,” “On Family,” “On Love,” “On Death,” “On Youth,” “On Religion,” and “On Writing.” Naturally, some of these groupings stuck out more than others, with the stronger pieces residing within “On Home,” “On Pets,” and “On Life.” One key example of this is in the “On Life” section, in a poem called “Doctor Recommended.” The closing lines state “Maybe if we built more art galleries, concert halls, and bookstores, / taught more viola, art history and rumba, / we might do with fewer hospitals and nursing homes” (34). This straightforward division of Landwehr’s poems created a stronger sense of unity across the book as well as among the related pieces, since it let the reader know what to expect and then still be surprised at the profound nature of each section’s content. Had the book simply been thrown together in a random ordering, it would not have been as impactful.
Structure and formatting aside, Landwehr exhibits a close attention to detail and full command of the words he puts on the page. There are many surprises riddled throughout his poems, making them continually interesting to read. In his poem, “With Apologies to PETA,” he ends with the line “We buried him next to the garage / changing his name from Fat Cat to Flat Cat” (30). Not only is this humorous in nature, it also demonstrates that Landwehr can direct his poems in one direction and then make a complete reversal at a moment’s notice. In another poem, “Asphalt Academy,” Landwehr leave his readers with a surprising ending: “When report card time came around/ he never worried too much/ because passing was all that mattered” (77). The double meaning in this last line is both clever and characteristic of Landwehr’s writing style, which is at its best in his more strongly developed poems.
Considering the work as a whole, it is obvious that a large amount of thought was put into Written Life, from the structuring of its poems to the writing itself, making it an exciting and pleasant read that leaves the reader wanting more.