Levi Waldrop’s My Journey to You is an earnest, wrenching, prolonged jeremiad from a speaker who is coping with profound emotional distress, substance abuse, aimlessness, despair, and PTSD, amongst a whole host of challenges. Like others before him, Waldrop has found salvation in the unconditional love of Jesus. Clearly, the “You” of the title is Jesus of Nazareth, and the collection documents Waldrop’s painful steps towards mercy and redemption. In the last stanza of “Answered Prayer,” for example, Waldrop writes, “As I lift me [sic] head / I see it/ The cross where you died/ The scars on your hands/ It was for me you died…” Waldrop shares this epiphany in various ways, throughout the collection.
It is easy for novice poets to mistake the distillation of literary poetry for simple shorthand. Much of Waldrop’s poetry is an overview, a gloss. His poems have more to do with plot than providing fresh, vivid detail, In the second stanza of “Forgiveness,” for instance, he writes: “Guilt an ever present friend/Regrets from the past/Fear of the future/Unworthy of Love…” This is accurate description, but it has no particulars: no explication to distinguish it as Waldrop’s personal experience, no original diction to identify it as Waldrop’s unique voice. How much more evocative might it have been had he explored which regrets, what fears, and why unworthy?
In poetry evinced from Christian religious experience, the temptation seems great to repeatedly profess the supreme sacrifice for our flagrant selfishness using very similar phrases: “The death on the Cross,” “the glory of God,” “Lord save me.” There’s nothing wrong with these ideas, but Waldrop rarely pushes past these too-familiar, nearly codified expressions. It might result in stronger poetry if he tries aiming for readers who don’t share his religious background.
My Journey to You is moving and impressive for its authenticity and resolve. But to compete with more accomplished poets, Waldrop will need to go deeper.
Also available as an ebook.