After reviewing this for The Bookplex, I decided to include this review on my blog because it might be helpful to poets. It also might be helpful to readers looking for a way to understand and evaluate poetry.
I have always thought that poetry anthologies work best when they are selections from an author’s work. One approach is to base the anthology on a central theme. Another is to organize the anthology into sections with each of them containing a group of related poems.
The Face on Mars is in the Mirror appears to include every poem that Wiskup wrote with no organizing principle. There is a chart called “Theme Aggregation” which is only necessary because the anthology’s themes are scattered. Wiskup also includes some of the original handwritten manuscripts with crossed out words, and a few examples of art from the author’s childhood. The handwritten manuscripts are difficult to read. Illustrations can enhance an anthology, but a higher level of skill would be expected by most readers.
Fortunately, the cover is not a childhood drawing. It piqued my interest by being both intriguing and rather chilling. It made me uncertain about what I would find in this book.
Many people argue that evaluation of poetry is very subjective, and that there are no standards for judging poetry. I am of the opinion that there are differences between poetry and prose. There are various techniques that are utilized by accomplished poets.
Wiskup uses rhyme throughout his work. He also includes rhythm in his poems, but he does this less consistently. In many of these poems the rhythm falters or vanishes entirely. This can work if rhythm is abandoned for a single line at the end of the poem, but if it happens unpredictably in the middle of the poem then its flow is interrupted. This becomes very noticeable when the poem is read aloud. I considered these less successful examples of Wiskup’s work.
Word choice is also important in poetry. Some poets choose their words to form patterns such as alliteration or assonance. Wiskup sometimes uses alliteration, but it’s relatively rare in his work. I noticed that some of the words he chose for rhymes appeared forced. He seemed to place a higher priority on rhymes than on the ideas that he was trying to communicate. This is unfortunate. Rhyme is a tool that should serve the work. It should never disrupt a poem’s meaning. Wiskup often chose words for rhymes which had connotations that didn’t fit within the context. There were also ungrammatical word choices in these poems. These can be effective in humorous poems, but not in serious ones. In addition, there were some misspellings that would not have been caught by a spellcheck program. The poem “Hide and Seek” ended so abruptly that I was certain that some words must be missing.
Some poems in this anthology struck me as written for self-encouragement or therapy. I would encourage poets to keep these sorts of poems on their hard drives unless the technique is really strong. It's possible that they could help readers with similar problems, but if they aren't well-expressed then they may not communicate what the author intended.
Yet there were a few lines in Wiskup’s work that I felt were really strong. My favorite line in the anthology appeared in “Vacant (How They Live)”. It was “the ego’s bones have gone frail and fail to dance”. Note the rhyme and alliteration of frail and fail. I also loved the concept of a weak ego being similar to someone with the condition of osteoporosis. That really resonated for me. It also summoned the mythic image of Death as a dancing skeleton. The best poetry works on a number of levels.
"Destiny Removed" was flawed by mixed metaphors, but the last four lines were wonderful. They could stand as a poem by themselves. I also loved "You fill me up like a glass of water/Taken from the rainforest of disguise" in "Chameleons".
Six of these poems stood out for me as particularly well-expressed in their entirety. In addition to “Vacant (How They Live)”, I really liked “Visions”, “Miracle”, “Credit Card Soul”, “Stakeholders of Freedom” and “Black Op Séance”. I wish that there had been more poems in The Face on Mars is in the Mirror that were as good as these.