Anders Carlson-Wee’s newest collection The Low Passions reframes some of the conventional American views of poverty and wealth much in the same way that Charles Bukowski, FrancEye, and Kevin Ridgeway have. In this collection, he asks us to reevaluate our conceptions of poverty and wealth, and also simply allows us to see the day to day lives of the people around us. At times, his work reminds me of all of these authors, and of Kerouac too, especially as he travels, but he is doing something beyond them as well, updating them, showing us what life is currently for so many people.
Much of what Carlson-Wee reveals is what it takes to survive well. In “Asking for Work at Flathead Bible,” he works for a pastor as a “floater,” doing the work that he is asked to do on a day-to-day basis, and never knowing what is coming next. “It was easier to adapt than you’d think. / If I had a hammer in my hand, I pulled nails. / If I had a sheet, I found the corner” (28). Adaptation and dignity are two of the basic components of the collection. He finds ways to survive, and he thrives in those places. The people he meets have dignity as well. When his cousin passes away, he and his family find a way to bury him with the kind of honor he deserves. It’s hard to raise the money, so they find ways to make the burial more affordable: “And someone from Odegard / Funeral Home . . . gave us permission to come a day early / and dig the hole” (74). This kind of basic decency, from the diggers and the funeral home, is part of what I love about the collection. It’s often a primer on being human.
Carlson-Wee also gives us a perspective of what it means not to be kind, not to be human. “Mark” sums up this perspective well when he writes, “Some say / we’re still on the way to human” (67). There are people with power in this collection who help others and there are people with power who try to destroy others. Perhaps, the character who will stay with me the longest is from “To the Rail Cop at Rathdrum.” Here, an officer catches the narrator trespassing in the railyard and warming himself with a fire. There is no thought of the idea that he might need the fire to survive. He simply handcuffs the narrator to a piling, and then tries to trick and manipulate the narrator into giving up his brother to be arrested too, assuming that someone else is probably with him. He threatens the narrator and tries to get him to betray his companion, all for the relatively minor crime of trespassing.
The Low Passions is an exceptionally insightful look into the bad and good of human nature, and I was pleased to be involved with Carlson-Wee’s consciousness for the day. The vision he has given me asks me to look and relook at the people around me.
John Brantingham 28th April 2021