canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

". . . and the fear makes us special"
by John Wing Jr. 
Mosaic Press, 2000

Reviewed by T. Anders Carson

When you think of poetry and then think of comedy, what comes to mind? For many there aren't any similarities. I found one striking feature that made me shudder when I read this collection and it is this: comedians have the same level of self-worth as do many poets, if not lower. [John Wing Jr. is a professional stand-up comedian: ed.]

This is an intriguing assemblage of work dealing not only with the night-to-night grind of making crowds roar vivaciously but also the silent moments when the crowd have gone home and the light is dimmed. I couldn't stop reading the work. The style is fluid. I jumped from one poem to the next, fully reading every word, letting it flow in the afternoon sun. 

The strongest prose piece is "Deadheads," which has Mr. Wing Jr. at a club in Buffalo back in 1983. It is about a gig he did there opening up for Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The way he handled the crowd was stunning. Knowing to play "Good Lovin'" (one of the few times he has had a guitar in his act) to calm the natives was brilliant. I think there was more than luck involved in choosing the song. 

The poetry is sometimes grim, as in the poem "underachiever": 

Never been 
chained to the back of a pickup 
and dragged into headlessness. 

Wasn't born 
in a hotel room 
and murdered moments later 
by my panicky parents. 

The last line reads, "Never done anything newsworthy." To reach between the fragments of headlines and finish with such insight is a gift. 

The poetry is a commentary on what he sees around him. Not only in his coming to terms with his children, aging and divorce but also a new-found sobriety and love. 

Lines from "symptoms": 

Still bathmaster to one daughter.
Shooed out by the other
who has discovered privacy. 

Insightful. When so many are working long hours to keep up the payments on various necessities, these playful lines recall the hope and unashamed innocence in youth. When is it taken away? Is it when the first prayers are uttered? The first fear of an Almighty? The first death of an animal or aunt. I don't know, but the poetry guides us with a shaky but honest revelation. 

He ventures through the labyrinths of trust and betrayal. At one time taking a gig after someone had faltered. In such a crazed line of work as comedy, the center light is the only one shining. It must be a challenge to balance that lifestyle at night with the semblance of normalcy with children. I applaud that. I applaud that more loudly than an hysterical joke that leaves people in tears. 

John Wing Jr. takes us down the path of foiling the crowd. He taunts and teases and plays with every line delivered. With every story told and situation felt I cannot but condone the poetry as an invitation into the palatial charm that is human nature. He writes with authority and conviction. His work is controlled and outrageous. The beauty and the stringent reaching for notes out of range and rolling words into ideals. For as Mr. Wing Jr. puts it in "Chief": 

Death questions the living.

T. Anders Carson has published poetry in The Danforth Review.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.