“You cannot get in the way of anyone’s path to happiness, it also does no good. The problem is / figuring out which part is the path and which part is the happiness.”
Looking for something thought-provoking to read, but don’t want to commit to a new novel? Look no further than Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes. It’s a collection of twenty-nine individual poems that are meant to be read in order, as the poems build on one another as the story progresses, and is, to quote one of Siken’s poems, “a story of loops”. All the poems are thick with Siken’s signature style, featuring lots of personification, second-person address, enjambment, and free verse.
The story is more or less about a painter attempting to complete his work, but begins to complicate itself as the painter begins to struggle with the problems of creation and representation as he attempts to answer the question of whether or not he’s doing anything of meaning. War of the Foxes attempts to question, and to locate, this meaning but is further complicated as it stumbles upon concerns of morality, creation, and human limitation.
“What can you know about a person? They shift / in the light. You can’t light up all sides at once. Add / a second light and you get a second darkness, it’s only fair.”
Siken’s painter paints and erases, paints and erases, creating and removing characters and perspectives from his story. Animals, landscapes, objects, and people become central to his narrative of existing and inventing. Siken transforms the reader into anything and everything as his search for meaning becomes riddled with obsession and paranoia.
The story begins confused and introspective and moves through fear and loneliness as it tries to come to a conclusion, becoming angered at expectation as it begins to realize that it probably missed a vital part of the puzzle a long time ago. Siken hurls us and all our preconceived notions of the world into heartbreakingly detailed moments of old time and explicit subjectivity while constantly reminding us of the impossibility of an objective truth. Siken abstracts, deletes, and divides his truths into poems, a painting of words, and slides the reader in and out of what is real now and what was real first, while not even knowing which is which himself. Whether you’re into poetry or not, this collection is harsh and profound, and more than anything else, worth a read.
“He was pointing at the moon, but I was looking at his hand.”
Facts Worth Mentioning:
Richard Siken is the author of another collection, called Crush, which was influenced by the death of his boyfriend in 1991. Crush won him the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition in 2004 and the Lambda Literary Award for “Gay Men’s Poetry” in 2005. Crush was so widely liked that many called War of the Foxes one of the most anticipated poetry works of the decade.