In his recently published poetry collection The Way Back, Wyn Cooper has assembled a full-blown chorus of beautiful losers, their voices profoundly anchored in enough wistfulness and borderline regret to make for an unexpected dignity. (His poem “Fun” provided the lyrics for Sheryl Crow’s Grammy Award-winning hit “All I Wanna Do.”) “Guys with names like 8-ball” live in these poems. “I built this junkyard / from nothing but hills rolling” boasts the proud owner of a fleet of ruined cars. “All I wanna do is have a little fun / before I die,” is the anthem of a bar denizen. Such are the gone-to-seed spirits who manage in a handful of crisply turned lines to rise above their condition.
Cooper trains his attention on his subjects, not in mocking condescension or mawkish voyeurism (as is too often the case these days), but with a propensity for understated sympathy, humor and admiration. He roves among “the lost the found the in between” in these pages, all the while indulging an infectious fondness for the mundane things of the world. A brick wall, the strut of a turkey, the simple act of grinding coffee—such accidents of detail he considers with a kind of lyrical pragmatism, allowing the ordinary to be elevated. Recently, Alan Alda remarked that “good listening requires a willingness to be changed by the other.” Apparently Wyn Cooper agrees. Listening, he might say, is the only way back to what matters.