To take the mess of life and make meaning from it is what all poets seek to do. For Will Wells, recipient of the thirteenth annual Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, this includes reaching across centuries and continents, into the minds and hearts of disparate individuals—Albert Einstein, Andrea Yates, the traveler from Porlock, Dante, or Holocaust survivors, including his own grandmother—to extract the personal value embedded there for him.
By turns funny, shocking, gentle, and musing, the poems of Unsettled Accounts reflect Will Wells’s constant attention to his environment and to his past—and to our environment and our past—and his persistent effort to keep them real and whole by turning them into art.
Ping-Pong with the Nazis
Bored couriers have kicked off boots and set
their pipes aside, a Dutch interior.
The slapped ball clacks over the table
like a telegraphic code, then trickles
like faint hope across the marble floor.
How quickly he bends to retrieve it
and puts it back in play, the Jewish boy
living with false papers in a villa
owned by his mother’s Gentile friends, and now
commandeered by retreating Germans
as divisional headquarters. The young
blond soldiers, deferential to a social
better, muss his blond locks like the kid
brothers back in the fatherland, like big
brothers steeped in genial menace.
He begs another game, so they relent.
As the ball resumes its chatter across
the no-man’s-land strung with a net,
he calculates the risk that each shot brings.
And so do they. He holds his pee and serves.