Wager by Adele Elise Williams

Wager by Adele Elise Williams

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Wager, Adele Elise Williams’s raucous debut, celebrates the fearlessness and determination that can be wrested from strife. Early on, Williams confronts multiple challenges, both personal and communal, including persistent childhood anxieties and stunning neighborhood tragedies (“Ray down the street hung / himself like just-bought bananas needing time”). In the working-class communities she moves among, the poet tangles with her perceived failures as a wayward daughter, recovering addict, and skeptical scholar as she buries friends and lovers along the way. Self-possession is so hard-won in the southern gothic world of Williams’s poems, no wonder the speaker here is so roaringly audacious while often taking relish in getting close to the edge: “Sometimes God says YAHTZEE and I know this means / someone has won but someone has lost too — a holy man / is a gambling man, and that God of ours, / he takes bets after all.” Through it all, Williams pays homage to her lineage of resilient “beast women” and defiantly resists any constraint as she prods her own limits.