Review: Anyone Will Tell You by Wendy Chin-Tanner

Cover of "Anyone Will Tell You" by Wendy Chin-Tanner: a vaguely humanoid reflective object, with the stretched reflections of buildings on its surface
Anyone Will Tell You by Wendy Chin-Tanner
Sibling Rivalry, 2019
76 pages, $15.95

Review by K.P. Hubbard

Wendy Chin-Tanner’s “Anyone Will Tell You”- But I Told You Straight:

A Contemporary Voice Carving Her Way to Your Gut in Free Verse

            Wendy Chin-Tanner’s evocative book of poems, Anyone Will Tell You, dances with poetic form as her words metamorphose from their intrinsic meaning, to haunting insight and imagery, to visual art. This sophomore poetic effort succeeds Turn, a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards, as well as American Terrorist: A Graphic Novel. Sibling Rivalry Press in Little Rock, Arkansas, publisher of Turn, will publish these some 70 pages of poetry in paperback print on April 12th, 2019. Chin-Tanner’s voice is modern, her poetry in free verse, with only sporadic rhyme schemes of her own invention, and serves as a direct road to the uncouth, the uncomfortable, the devastating.

            Anyone Will Tell You is marked by three sections, I. Sol, Octo-Gravida, II. Who’s Afraid, III. Anyone Will Tell You. Each section displays a marked change in motif while singing along the same theme. Sol, Octo-Gravida, as the title can be dissected, details the plight of the ever-trying mother, the loss of being unable to grow, the unbearable burden of feeling unnatural when the human body does not live up to what it seems it is meant to do. “Gathering” kicks off this section with a perfect encapsulation of defeat, describing scenes of nature failing, “landed fish / fins flapping / in the dirt / the wings of / flightless birds / so many / useless things / gathering”. This poem also outlines the main form Chin-Tanner often falls into, simple three line stanzas, breaking each sentence or thought into smaller moments, honing in on the severity of each word. The subsequent poem, “Index” then dives into Chin-Tanner’s duel poems- what seems they can be read as two columns or left to right and down as in typical form. Chin-Tanner does not prevaricate. “Index” directs, “I / confess two / babies died / inside me”. It becomes easy now to contextualize the entire book. Chin-Tanner writes in the wake of loss, on the inside of it all. It is immediately clear these poems function as a book because they are in conversation with one another, leading to, coming from, or smashing into the same vanishing point.

            Chin-Tanner’s perspective is familiar but her language is fresh. “R Stands For” documents the fertility struggles of the narrator, “we can’t get one to stick, or how the two / other unstickings proved that what was bound / could be easily unbound”. This is one of her more powerful poems, the end pivot perfectly grounding her and us back into reality while shedding some light on the poetry writing process, “Resolution lies in resignation; this list of rhymes / scribbled on the back of a receipt”. Chin-Tanner’s poignant poetry is not without humor (albeit dark), “Femara” plays a word toss with morning/mourning, appeals Bach and mathematics.

            II. Who’s Afraid is the portion in which Chin-Tanner plays the most. “On Truth in a Nonmoral Sense” and “On Truth in a Moral Sense” are sandwiched between a Nietzsche quote. “Velleity”, “How it is Written”, and “Apoidea” all use fundamental poetic form as a mere baseline, becoming the catalyst for contemporary poetry, changing the way we think words have to move on the page, giving variance to the ways in which it can be read on the page, and a total transformation when the words are read aloud.

            Chin-Tanner’s poetry is incredibly self-aware in the way it almost seems her words are becoming sentient. In “Velleity” she begs the question, “is / this poem / a poem / about me / or the sea”, in “The Mother in This Poem is Me or You or Your Mother” the title already elucidating itself, she writes, “it’s okay / it’s just a / metaphor”, then in “Index”, “wait this is / a poem” and in “When Sleepless”, “can you hear / me” all these moments simultaneously whip Chin-Tanner’s audience in and out of the narrative. Are we a part of the writing process? Is she talking to us? This is what encourages excitement and makes it feel as though these poems are not only in conversation with each other, or their narrator, but anyone who lays eyes on them.

            Anyone Will Tell You is a book of poems about motherhood, devastation, and growth. Though Chin-Tanner’s work is clearly and exclusively through the lens of a woman, it does not take any specific amount of estrogen to feel her poetry. Loss is a shape shifter who feels universal regardless of his garb. Chin-Tanner’s poetry comes at a time where the genre itself is shifting. Poetry is becoming more approachable yet more innovative, and even weirder. “Free verse” does not even seem an appropriate term when it feels Chin-Tanner and her contemporaries are carving out a new subgenre of poetry altogether. Chin-Tanner showcases her developed voice, her signature style, motifs she invents and then follows, throughout the entirety of Anyone Will Tell You. Anyone Will Tell You flirts and asks you to dance, turns and begs you to cry. This is poetry to be read on a half-empty park bench in the sun, or in a burrito of blankets with a tea light in a thunderstorm, it transcends simple sadness. Chin-Tanner is direct in a way poetry circumvented in the past. That is not to say there are no metaphors, symbolism, or hidden succulent gems. Chin-Tanner is honest. Each word is planted with intense agency, each line break creates at least two new connotations, the white space she allows to stay on the page and the black words casting their shadows on top are intentional and distinguish Chin-Tanner from an author to an artist.  Anyone Will Tell You succeeds at making you just feel.

K.P. Hubbard is a Boston-based artist, writer, and bar manager. She specializes in printmaking, poetry, and craft cocktails. Currently, K.P. is completing her final year of her BA in Interdisciplinary Arts, a self-designed major, at Suffolk University and the New England School of Art and Design, at the culmination of which K.P. plans to pursue her sommelier certification.