A First Book
SUBWOOFER makes audible the deep bass of history, for this is a book of vibrant, honest listening: to the voices of Nina Simone, James Baldwin, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Basquiat; to those without names; to the sadness of loss and the bitter silences within privilege and racism; to the luck of being alive. This book of witness, elegy, and renewal makes a noise that is joyful, heartbreaking, and unforgettable.
“Bass keeps Wesley Rothman up at night when it isn’t waking him with its low-end aubade. Still, SUBWOOFER’s subwoofer’s not conscience, but the sense that something’s amiss in the blank stillness. This uneasy vibration leads to poetry where Rothman reckons with whiteness, his whiteness. He seeks first to purge it by drowning, then by fires sustained through this urgent debut. Rothman’s desire for transformation is matched with the knowledge that it requires hard work; this ‘bruisy music strikes up the fat sobs of futility.’ But if white privilege is an ‘invisible badge pinned…by some legacy,’ the struggle against it can also be passed on. He writes, seemingly through clenched teeth, ‘This is key: redact comfort from my list of possessions.’ Tune in and up to SUBWOOFER’s disquieting pulse; I suspect it will reverberate long after you read it.”
“The musical muses are many in SUBWOOFER. Their lyrical influence weaves throughout these lines that sway and break and damn-near robot across the pages. The poems stutter—awestruck—in joyous repetition. But there’s trouble in the waters, too: ‘Even when vibrations go missing. / There is vibration.’ How does a music-loving journeyman register the tunes he grew to love but did not make? Is it possible to ‘unmake…Me’? ‘We are what we /are what we never / think we are,’ Sonia Sanchez wisely lamented. But there’s courage in the asking. Poems like ‘Bars of Blue’ sparkle with vigilance and inquiry. The energy is constant and the voltage never fades in Wesley Rothman’s booming debut.”
“In Subwoofer, Wesley Rothman commands a wider range of voices than any contemporary poet I can think of, and yet each of these voices is entirely his, and guided by his particular sensibility. Throughout the book, Rothman unflinchingly examines American Whiteness. But the almost violent variety of the poems itself is a poem on Whiteness as true as any being written today. As Rothman, following Wallace Stevens but remaining himself, writes: ‘Every figment fantasies himself the white emperor of smoke.’”