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A Carolinian Looks Back: A Review of Wilson Koewing's Quasi / Hugh Blanton

Memoir is one of the publishing industry's favorite genres. Slap the name and face of a celebrity or VIP onto the cover of a book and it's guaranteed to vault to the very top of the best seller lists. Memoirs of the famous are not really so much their true life stories as they are PR or damage control. (Robert Novak used his memoir to justify his Valerie Plame screw up and to white wash a DUI.) And then there's those memoirs that are just self-indulgent narcissism written by ghost writers that have been told by their patron celebrity "Make me look good!" Poet Wilson Koewing needs no ghost writer and has no obsession with making himself "look good." With a tender nostalgia for his home state of South Carolina he looks back and gives us his life story in a series of vignettes.




Quasi is the latest book from Wilson Koewing. He opens up with a story about his grandfather taking him to a bar when Wilson was only five years old. The grandfather tosses a few back while little Wilson is perched atop the bar sipping Coca Cola and being fawned over by staff and patrons. As they leave grandfather tells young Wilson, "Don't tell anyone I brought you here. If you do I'll never take you anywhere like that again." A few minutes after arriving back home Wilson caves under the pressure of knowing glares from his parents and spills the beans. True to his word, Wilson's grandfather never took him to a bar again.


Koewing writes in a Hemingwayesque prose, short packed sentences moving us quickly along. He doesn't dawdle on description even when he's telling us about spectacular views in his far and wide world travels. It's a prose style that leaves the reader stunned as though they've been kicked in the groin when they come across an unexpected and violent death of a high school friend, or devastated at the abrupt end of a relationship. Being a poet, he's a highly skilled wordsmith casting his sentences like a wizard—even when he's telling us about the gag Christmas gifts he used to give his Uncle Dean every year. (Uncle Dean had had enough of it the year Wil gave him a gift so thoroughly wrapped in duct tape he couldn't get it open.) Wilson's Uncle Dean used to be a bit of a prankster himself. When he and Wilson's dad (Dean's brother) were boys Dean came screaming maniacally into his brothers bedroom with a .410 shotgun and shot him almost point blank in the chest. Dean had made a blank out of a .410 shotgun shell and this was his idea of a practical joke. Wilson spends more time talking about his Uncle Dean in this memoir than anybody else except his own father.


There's quite a bit of strangeness and humor in this memoir. Wilson comes across what he thinks is a dead deer along the side of the highway. There's something off about it—it doesn't look right and he returns to it for a better look. There appears to be blood and signs of trauma, a few flies swarming, and he goes on home still feeling that something is off. He comes back the next day, sitting within viewing distance and playing chess on his phone, knowing there's something not quite right with  this roadkill. As he's sitting there a black van pulls off the highway in front of the deer, a man gets out of the van holding what looks like a game controller, points it at the deer, and the deer gets up and animatronically walks into the back of the van. Wondering what it was all about? Apparently we know as much about it as Koewing does.


Koewing is a keen observer of everything around him and that's one of the things that sets this memoir apart from so many others. It's not just about him, or even those closest to him. He recounts the story of Steve, one of his father's coworkers at the post office who had committed suicide: "He had childlike eyes, but not like he was curious about everything he might see, more like he'd been continuously floating away from childhood for so long that his eyes gave away how scared he was to be where he'd arrived." It's the poet in Koewing that gives us these vivid sentences, putting his confidence and poise on full display.


Koewing's traveled extensively—the USA and the world. Belize to Ireland, Colorado's snowy mountains to muggy New Orleans. (His favorite New Orleans bar is The Chart Room.) He meets a Russian woman in Prague and they hit it off so well they are willing to put up with the inconvenience of communicating through Google Translate. "On the way, I learned she knew maybe ten words of English, which was ten more than I knew of Russian." In some destinations he finds gray skies depressing, others he finds them vibrant: "There is no gray...more depressing than the sky on those short winter days in the south where the sun never fully comes out. In Ireland, in the summer, it can be a terrible gray for days, but there is always rain and everything is green, and a vibrancy exists."


He dedicates this book to his Uncle Dean and the grandfather that took him to the bar that day all those years ago. Despite all his years and miles of travel he's not the least bit world weary. If we're lucky he'll give us another memoir sometime soon. He closes this book with a little gift—a fictional short story about a combat veteran returning to the USA and having a difficult time resuming his civilian life. Poets write prose, too.


by Wilson Koewing, 127 pages

Anxiety Press, $15.00


HUGH BLANTON's latest book is Kentucky Outlaw. He can be reached on X @HughBlanton5.


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