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Prose poems recount a biracial author's discovery of his hidden family.
In the opening page of this compelling memoir related in (mostly) prose poems, Jerry Wemple announces that “everything is connected, even those who are reading this here and now.” What makes this assertion all the more remarkable is how hard-won that wisdom is, the product of a lifetime spent seeking connection and identity, starting out as “a black-haired, brown-skin boy delivered by a woman with a German name and no explanation at all” surrendered to Saint Joseph’s Foundlings Home and Maternity Hospital (pictured on the book’s cover) in a “foundering hard-coal city” in Pennsylvania. Adopted by his mother’s sister (who keeps that connection a secret), he spends a childhood as a “piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit no matter where it’s tried,” enduring endemic racism, until decades later a DNA match at last leads him to a long-lost aunt whose greeting upon meeting him is the book’s title, and the revelation of his dead father, “a ghost on the internet.” Reflecting on “the things you’ve learned and haven’t, the people who’ve died and took their secrets with them. You could list a lot of things, enough to fill a book.” Wemple has filled a book, with memories and revelations and, in the end, reconciliation with everyone and everything that has gone into making him, the realization that “those frozen moments are luxury.”
Poetry. Family & Relationships. African & African American Studies.
“Professor Jerry Wemple’s collection of poems is a tour-de force of a poet’s evolution. As he says in a poem '...there is always power in words and sometimes magic.' We follow him from his youth into middle age as he searches answers to his complicated identity. As we enter into the collection, we are treated to vivid details of his emotion of his search for meaning. The late poet, Etheridge Knight always spoke of the importance of geography and the poet’s response to it. Wemple’s gifted & lyrical response make his book a must read to aspiring writers! Wemple is a poet’s poet! Enter his world and marvel at what you find!”
—Lamont B. Steptoe
“WE ALWAYS WONDERED WHAT BECAME OF YOU is a book about secrets, lies, and ghosts. A memoir in prose poems, it spans Wemple’s life, from the shrouded circumstances of his birth to the present, enacting the author’s search for his father and the truth of who he is. These lyric vignettes traverse not only time but place—carrying us from central Pennsylvania to Florida, to Baltimore, to the Carolinas, and beyond. With a poet’s keen sense of image, Wemple works to uncover and recover his past, all the while reckoning with race and racism, belonging and unbelonging, ancestry and history. Most often, Wemple speaks in the second person, which is wholly fitting as the narrative he assembles is an individual and collective story of America, containing—as Whitman said—multitudes.”
“The book begins: 'You are fifteen and riding a motorcycle on rain-wet country roads in the middle of Pennsylvania,' and we soon learn that Wemple is a consummate storyteller, taking us through working-class towns with shut-down mills and windowless dress factories—with rich details of the daily. With chronological mapping and a full-bodied voice, this speaker goes deep into the weight of not knowing one’s beginnings—from the metal cribs in the foundling home coupled with relentless racism aimed at a mixed-race boy. These remarkable poems rise from a family history of piecemeal lies to a voice of honoring what the body knows.”
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Jerry Wemple is a poet, nonfiction writer, and editor. He has three previously published poetry collections as well as two chapbooks. Yusef Komunyakaa selected his first, You Can See It from Here (Broadside Lotus Press, 2000), for the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. He is also the co-editor, with Marjorie Maddox, of the anthology Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (Penn State University Press, 2005). His poems and essays appear in numerous anthologies and journals. Among his awards are a Fellowship in Literature from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Word Journal Chapbook Prize, a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, and the Jack and Helen Evans Endowed Faculty Fellowship. He is currently at work on a prose book about his ancestors. He teaches in the creative writing program at Bloomsburg University.