Mysterious Acts by My People written by Valerie Wetlaufer is a collection of nine years of work. Wetlaufer holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. Her MFA is from Florida State University. Wetlaufer also holds degrees from Bennington College — a BA in French and an MA in teaching. She is also the author of three chapbooks.
Wetlaufer has an impressive educational resume, and things like that sometimes intimidate me as a reviewer with a small college resume and an MA in political science. I have no educational background in poetry, and only in the last year developed an interest poetry beyond a few well known names. Poetry has since become my favorite reading, and I only use Goodreads Giveaways for poetry. Going through the list of offerings I came across: “Mysterious Acts by My People is a fearless exploration of love, grief, violence, and humor.” So I entered and won. The book arrived promptly. It was signed and included a bookmark and the author’s business card. The note in the book said I hope you enjoy the poems. I thought this is nice; it should be right up my alley.
However, I found myself in that “outside your comfort zone” place in reading. There is violence, and humor. The love is something that hit me as a very surprised, “Wow.” The grief is soul wrenching. The poem “Twins” and the “The Fourth Miscarriage” will rip your heart out. “City of Salt” and “Your Body will Haunt Mine” are powerful and very moving poems of the loss of a loved one. “Anger Endures” continues the sense of extreme loss.
There is humor in the collection too. One line is burned into my brain is from “Instruction Piece”: “I live in the belly of a wail, swimming the ocean.” The play on words is near perfection.
The violence and sex are graphic, perhaps a bit more than I expected. I had read poetry from the LGBT community before and enjoyed it. Feelings are the same no matter who you love. Wetlaufer, however, left me feeling a bit different, not offended, but maybe a bit embarrassed reading it. But that too is not quite correct. At times, I would get caught up in the poetry and come back and think, “Did she really say what I think she said?” Other times I caught what she said, but the words softened the bluntness. There is power in what is being written, immense power, enough to knock you over, but Wetlaufer’s use of words makes everything seem as it should. She made this former Marine blush, yet at the same time see the raw beauty in her words.
I will admit I was not fully prepared for the subject matter in this collection. Perhaps the elk on the cover distracted me. Perhaps, only reading the opening lines of the introduction made me think of something else. Contemporary poetry is, in my experience, a few hits and many misses. Mysterious Acts by My People is a hit. After reading this collection, despite most of it being outside my personal experience, my first thoughts were, “My God, this woman can write.” The poems in this book will stay in my mind for some time to come. Wetlaufer does something that is both difficult and rare. She is able to take someone with completely different experiences and have them feel like they are part of her experiences. She has the ability not just to tell you what she felt, but to have you experience what she felt. Absolutely amazing collection.