By Stefan Cozza
It is a common misconception that because poetry is smaller in scale compared to a novel or series of essays, it is less grandiose in its vision or aspiration. As a poet, this is not only disheartening, but entirely untrue. Instead of debating the futility of this argument to a poetry skeptic, I would simply point them toward Jane Wong’s How To Not Be Afraid of Everything. Whatever expectations you have regarding poetry, throw them out the window. If someone has never read a poetry collection, I would absolutely recommend Wong’s collection as a gateway. Having no prior experience with Jane Wong, I had no expectations or reference bar for the work. I was going in with a completely blank slate and that lack of judgement profoundly heightened the experience.
The deeper I go into the poetry weeds; I find myself most attracted to poetry that oozes confidence and control. A confident poet can take the reader wherever they want them to go, however dark, chaotic, or messy it may be. No other poet has had the confidence to start a collection with a Mad-Lib. The first piece, “Mad” threw me so off guard that I had to prepare myself for the task of filling in the missing gaps. That choice to demand so much from the reader, right out the gate, is bold and alluring. If a reader did have expectations, they were dismantled immediately. What is even more captivating, is the fact that the poems feel complete, despite the blank spaces. Writing this, Wong was confident that the reader would subconsciously know the right answer. How to Not Be Afraid of Everything” is not only a brilliant poetry collection, but a social agreement with the author that we can be responsible and still live our truth.