In the few poems I’ve read by Liz Waldner, there’s a mathematical precision coupled with a fast and loose playfulness with language. It’s like math rock, only better.

(Turns out Waldner studied math and philosophy as an undergraduate at St. Johns College. )

I can’t speak intelligently about “A Sensible Life“, the mistitled poem appearing in the January 5, 2009, issue of the New Yorker (it should have been “The Sovereignty and the Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed”) because I have no idea what such a life is, though I like the idea of such a life a great deal. I also like the poem a great deal though there’s an argument that I can’t quite follow or at least feel confident enough in stating. But it seems that, at least in the context of this poem, Waldner is suggesting that the sensible life is the one that is lived. Period.

We can haggle over the notion of a beginning at the beginning of the poem if that should mean the speaker’s beginning or some other important marker in the speaker’s life, or really if Waldner is speaking about a different kind of beginning; a Hegelian notion of beginning (where the beginning is not really the beginning because you only recognize the beginning when you’re well past the artifical marker that was the beginning), which, coincidentally, has some relation to T.S. Eliot’s , especially Little Gidding, the place/poem Waldner references midway through her poem.

Little Gidding is an interesting choice; it was a 17th century Anglican devotional community (which is why Eliot included it into his Four Quartets). Waldner is riffing on little time and the repetition of Little Gidding is handy but there is a greater relationship between the two poems at play: in both there’s a refusal or unwillingness to go quietly to the grave and that imagination can conquer morality. That’s a horrible paraphrase.

There may be more of the same in the novels Waldner mentions: The Queen of the Tambourine Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, but I am not familiar with any of them.

The couplets and where Waldner breaks her lines disorients the reader in pleasing ways. I especially like the the final couplet with “being willing” being the penultimate line. Seems to sum it up nicely.

Further Reading

Bio and poems from

Brief review of Homing Devices

Review of Saving the Appearances