A first read through Keith Waldrop’s The Not Forever can be as transient or time-consuming, lighthearted or intense, as you feel inclined to make it. Lines and stanzas are relatively brief and broken into chapters, permitting the reader to pause frequently and absorb before pushing forward. Waldrop’s colloquial word choice equips the reader with a superficial textual familiarity, allowing for the potential quick read. However, it was the most succinct words and lines that forced more prolonged contemplative pauses from me. Because I knew I would be writing this review, I read slowly and tried to pay attention to any recurring themes or telling word choice. Due in part to my inherent reading habits, and in other part to the individuality of Waldrop’s different sections, my efforts to appreciate all lines equally were trumped by the relative allure of certain passages.
As a graduation-approaching college senior, I couldn’t help being incredibly drawn to part fifteen of chapter two, “Marginalia.” The specific section is entitled, “Psalm,” and is reminiscent of the conflicting desire for and sometimes simultaneous aversion to money and respectability. The passage can be read as one voice conversing with itself, or two voices in discord with one another. I found that many chapters of the book could be read as dialectical thought processes. Waldrop uses different typefaces, brackets, genders, forms of address, and quotation marks to create various speakers, and cleverly ensures that no one perspective is evidently valorized over another. In “Psalm,” for example, there are those who make grand and unexplained generalizations such as:
Money is everything.
or, even more vaguely:
These things are not done.
It is not good form.
Due, perhaps, to my youth, I immediately found the other voice more appealing. He or she is upset by, and therefore rejects the opposition.
These words cause a deep sensation.
Who could care?
But then falls into the same trap of generalizations and one-sidedness.
Old people are like that.
Let us say no more about it.
In a way, The Not Forever illustrates a cultural clash, or cultural overlap. Divergent perspectives are used to segregate the particles of reality, and present them both in isolation and alongside their equals. Waldrop eschews a simplistic relativist or universalist method in understanding reality, instead presenting the significance of its existence in words. As written in the book’s epigraph:
“The word reality is also a word…”
The above quotation from prominent physicist Niels Bohr, alludes to the relationship between words and ideas. Communication in a world of varying or expanding perspectives necessitates words and their ideas to be clearly defined. Chapter 8 epitomizes the book’s stylistic minimalism and ideological inter-connectivity by wrapping a concise statement with a full white page before and after it. The chapter has no title and in its brevity, subtly projects power onto its seven words:
common knowledge, lines
running to meet
No capitalization, no concluding punctuation. Waldrop has both cut his chapters down to a bare minimum, while endlessly expanding the reach of this statement. Words are sparse, but the knowledge is communal, and thereby effective. In the section entitled “Eleven Dead Likenesses,” Waldrop groups together a variety of nonliving characters, including philosophers, an inordinate object, a common adjective, and a mathematical subject matter. Unlike the famous Whitman cataloging style, however, Waldrop provides an eight line stanza, one written entirely in French, for each apparently parallel identity. It is also significant to note that these personas are relatable specifically in death. Death is an permanent state, and allows itself to be read into, interpreted, represented, and labeled, as described in the following passage from the same chapter as “Eleven Dead Likenesses”:
Death can be represented.
Vulture. Possible root.
To be afraid. To be depressed. To breathe.
Death can be represented as a bar of soap.
Monuments labeled. We remain anonymous and unattached.
Others have thought me. Mainland, or the thing on the water. Ah, the Psalmist thinks–grown older–I may dwell in the house of the Lord, but not forever.
This is the namesake moment of the book, at no other point does Waldrop use the distinct words “not forever.” Humanity is fleeting, emotional, and cannot be represented symbolically or logically with words. The following passage from the chapter, “Marginalia,” is one of many that confuses the reader’s logic and linear thinking:
in our daily
up, down, right
turning now to
consider a painter’s
The painter, or any artist’s, eye does not view things in an idealized, simplistic form. Directions and clear statements are ineffective tools for a creative perspective. The epigraph to this chapter is “le conte dit,” cut off from a famous quotation from Donald Winnicott, “le conte dit sans dire,” which in English means something like, the story says without saying. The focus is on the elusive in-between, the marginalia, the part of the tale that comes across without being directly said. The Not Forever empowers these concepts to act as the glue between endless possibilities and perspectives. Waldrop’s book of poems manifests the amalgamation, rather than organization or logic, requisite for upholding a shared reality and humanity and combating generalizations among conflicting voices.
Helena Duffee is a senior at Tulane University, studying English and Economics. She is a member of the Tulane Honors Program, and during the spring of her Junior year, she studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France at the American University Center of Provence. Before moving to New Orleans, she grew up in New York City and spent four years at a small boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts.