Octopus Moons, Vol. 1, poetry by Jeffrey Woolf
Book Review by Kate Lutes
Paperback: 41 pages
Publisher: Black Umbrella Books, 2009
Tillich, a 20th century Christian existentialist, says that “Language has created the word ‘loneliness’
to express the pain of being alone, and the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone,” a distinction
that writer Jeffrey Woolf seems to embrace in his poetry chapbook, Octopus Moons, Vol.
1. It’s that singular love of singularity that only writers have, and
we often dwell alone in our work, despite the bustling world around us, whether by choice or by the nature of our work. Because
to be a writer means spending a lot of time by ourselves. For some, this is one of the major tragedies of the lifestyle, along
with brooding, a long, haunting tradition of alcoholism, and unfair comparisons to our overrated contemporaries.
However, for Woolf, to be alone is to be at peace. The glory of solitude allows writers
to see the world with a brighter lens, a bigger scope. In Woolf’s poem, “the gods have given me a glimmer,”
he enumerates the details of a good night, and finishes with the revelation, “i realize the best of all these is / the
being alone / part.” And in “jasmine v. ylang-ylang,” he says:
and as you sit there on your stool contemplating the
walk home to meet this woman, already six pints
in and a bowl of salted, roasted peanuts under
you visualize how singular is the radiance of her
beauty, her voice soft and tonic as sulfur water
her smile graceful as a swan’s
you think these things and more and her waiting for
and you smile as you light another cigarette
crack another peanut and order just one more
This brings a question that I imagine a lot of people—writers or otherwise—struggle to answer:
can we appreciate the beautiful things when we are so close, or does distance give those things their gloss? The beauty of
closeness is interactivity—to be in the moment—but the beauty of distance
is the ability to comprehend, reflect and even glorify that moment. We can’t do both at the same time—or at least,
not very well. Octopus Moons seems to champion distance, and as a writer, it’s
much to his benefit.
style is very matter-of-fact; simple, but with a smirk. His writing is approachable, except in “and sundance, too,”
which moves away from his other poems in the collection, although not necessarily for the best. Some of his most powerful
lines come in the eerie “the city clock,” where he describes the townspeople as “dream-soaked children;
/ mustached, silver-eyed, button-collared men; moon-skinned, star-dressed / women –” Because of their simplicity,
his poems rely heavily on repetition and nuanced refrains, like in “scene from a second-story inner city patio,”
and they lend themselves to a sneaky sort of coolness, like a snake coiled up in the shade.
Woolf’s weakest poems in Octopus Moons
are his two “odd days” poems. They’ve got potency to them, but they land weakly in their endings. The poems’
narrating voice feels too removed from their subjects. And whereas in “scene
from…” the removal seems intentional, here in the “odd days” poems, it feels more like a misstep than
a master plan.
But that is a minor blip in an otherwise compelling collection. Octopus Moons, Vol. 1 is a chapbook that includes fourteen poems, most only a page and a half long. It’s
charming in its straightforwardness, and curious in its theme of being alone. Having spent the last few years in a strong
college writing community, being a writer and being alone has become an all-too-poignant issue for me. Octopus Moons hit me in the heart; I expect most writer-readers would feel the same.
I’ll end with one of the concluding stanzas from Woolf’s “remember,
poet,” a sort of manifesto and pep talk to the poet himself. There are some really great lines in this piece, filled
dually with silliness and darkness, but these last lines bring out the aloneness—solitude, not loneliness, as Tillich
defined it—which make such an irresistible statement about the poet himself.
to do any of
laugh beginning to swell
the moon laughs