Review: The Wizard's Homecoming

Elwin Cotman 89 pages Nomadic Press (2023)

Read this if you like: mythic fantasy, punk poetry, Haruki Murakami tl;dr summary: Combination poetry collection and story about a galaxy-traveling wizard

See the book on Bookshop

I love works that defy categorization, and that’s definitely something I’d say is true about The Wizard’s Homecoming. It’s rare to see poetry and speculative prose side-by-side in a single-author collection, and I understand why: those things don’t seem to naturally belong together, but in this case they do. It helps that the voice is cohesive. Poems like “About That Time Punks Invaded a Condo” and “We Was Not Kings” have a strong narrative thread, the prose pieces that open and close the collection are lyrical, so it feels natural for the reader to transition between them. The language and repetition gives them an oral storytelling feel that fits the thematic territory, too, which adds another level of cohesion.

I think there are a few different ways to read this collection, too. As a mostly-fiction person, I went into the poems seeing them as characters who inhabit this same world, in the same present day Earth-ish area of it that Daisy lives in. Someone who comes into the collection more as a poet would likely instead see the prose pieces as extended metaphor (which, I suppose, you could argue that all fantasy is, though that’s a topic for a different blog post). The point is, each work in this collection, and the collection as a whole, can be read on multiple layers. I suspect it would be the kind of book that’s great to revisit because you might take something different, or see a different angle of it, each time.

Predictably, the titular novella that anchors The Wizard’s Homecoming was the highlight of the collection for me. Writing mythic stories can mean walking a tricky line to give it that ancient, epic feel while still reading as unique and new. The opening scene that sets up Basila and her sisters tows this line beautifully, and I love that it comes back in the final confrontation. I wouldn’t have been mad at the scene if it was just there to set up the world, but weaving it in at the end, too, makes it even more satisfying for the reader.

Maybe the best example of this, though, is the character of the Wizard himself. His description in places is god-like—the way his paradise blooms from his body, his ability to see and move through time. But he is also a modern hero, with an origin story and very human emotions and motivations. It’s difficult to establish stakes for a character as powerful as the Wizard and giving him something weaker to protect does the job effectively to keep the tension high through to the climax.

In a whole-collection sense, I love the little echoes between pieces in the collection. Like the line of dialogue on page 84 where the Wizard’s daughter, Daisy, tells Basila, “Bitch, you lucky,” harkening back to the poem “Lucky” in a very clever, off-hand way. Using recurring phrases and images across the works reinforces that cohesion I mentioned earlier, helping to create the feel of inhabiting a unified world, even when the individual works have distinct voices and subjects.

This collection grew out of Elwin Cotman’s research on the Tulsa massacre. Any creative project with that kind of tragedy as inspiration has the potential to go heavy-handed, or veer the other way and have that tragedy feel like a prop, but this is another place The Wizard’s Homecoming strikes a nice balance. The Tulsa massacre isn’t just window dressing—it is central to the collection, but it’s not the only thing it’s about. In the novella, history and mythology are seamlessly woven into the character and plot arcs, and they inform many of the poems in the same integral, thoughtful way. All-told, this is both a thoughtfully written and an incredibly entertaining collection, and definitely belongs on your reading list if you’re into things that blur, bend, and defy genres (especially for anyone looking to embark on a poetry-prose hybrid project who wants to see an example of it done well).

See similar posts:

#BookReviews #GenreBlurring #StoryCollections #Poetry