A Review of A Common Name for Everything by Sarah Wolfson

by Bianca Viñas

In her debut, poet Sarah Wolfson becomes both pastoral cryptographer and medium to the wonderfully odd. She is artist and guide, purposefully misplacing the familiar and mundane to a corner of altered earth where magic is once again possible and the strange beauty of nature, home, motherhood, and language is restored. A Common Name for Everything explores these categories with renewed vision. The title itself an entryway for timid readers that at once ask for a predictable book whilst also secretly pleading for wonder and depth. Where my grandfather walked everywhere with a farmers’ almanac and I sat puzzled with a hunger for fairytale, I now see nothing is quite so spellbinding as a cornfield or tomato vine … the doctrine of a particular apple, a mother’s love … the idioms of “if” and the prayers of sheep. If not to exist in a house of wonders without walls or clocks, why do we venture outside?

The collection begins with a question, “have you been to this place?”, a place you surely have been since this spot is earth, but after the first few pages, you can only name certain things you’ve felt in dreams, half-memories, and childhood impossibilities that felt true, but this is earth … you certainly have been. To sit alone on a field and have the moon be yours, alone, because your mother said so? Is it still not so? To have a body full of colonies because your father deems it a “blossoming cooperative of cells” … do you not then have starlit skies in your stomach and stories, many stories, in your eyes? Sarah brings us back to the earth of our childhood, the earth of wonder with a moon off kilter that we somehow get to call our own. 

Home: a planet on a planet with a kitchen sink draining spoiled milk. Where minced garlic means memory and a large grapefruit a tumor. The direction of the rooms does not always make sensedisappointment, safety, death, wonderment, blunderbut it is a place we have either been or make. 

Motherhood? Curious Taxonomy? In Sarah’s words, “if you believe at any moment any being might abruptly change direction …” continue on, please. It is one thing to devour a book and walk on. It is another to carry it with you back into your body, your home, your little corner of earth and give it recourse to live again each day. 

 

So here, an excerpt from a curious section called “Earth-Things”:

 

We’ve lost the trail

on purpose to find

the bog which suggests

another life: not an afterlife,

But the prospect

 

of a moist, colloidal

parallel existence. After

the bog the mountain goes to bramble,

which raises lines

on our still uncertain

Legs. What good are we 

with our three names

for birds and our zero

language for their songs?

We’re up the mountain 

to tend something 

 

Electric. We carry a hunch

our future may be wrapped 

in the whisper of a bear. 

We lose the mountain

 

to find the bramble.

 

Sarah Wolfson’s poems appear in Canadian and American Journals including the Fiddlehead, AGNI, Michigan Quarterly ReviewPRISM international, and TriQuarterlyand she has twice been nominated for a Puschcart Prize. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan. Originally from Vermont, she now lives in Montreal, where she teaches at McGill University.

Bianca Viñas is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing & Publishing Program. Her debut anthology, LIFE LINES: REWRITING LIVES FROM THE INSIDE OUT, a collection of short stories and essays by incarcerated women, was released in the Spring of 2019 with Green Writers Press. Bianca is currently completing her first novel, a hybrid work of poetry, medical research, and narrative prose on Purgatory. She edits novels and is on staff on Mount Island Magazine. She is currently beginning work on a new mini docuseries.