Reading a book of poetry a day gets easier the longer I do it. It’s writing about it that’s a challenge — like dancing about architecture, as somebody or another said about the closely related task of reviewing music. This is especially true of poetry as musical, enigmatic and utterly captivating as Nic S.’s. It doesn’t help that my lit-crit vocabulary is woefully impoverished. And it’s especially embarrassing to be reduced to near-incoherence in my admiration for the poetry of someone I actually know pretty well online. Surely I owe it to Nic, who’s given so much to the online poetry community over the past few years, to write something. Especially since I can’t dance.
Reading the book was an absorbing experience. I listened to the audio-book version read by Nic and followed along in the print version, which worked pretty well, except for the fact that Nic went too fast — I had to pause the recording after almost every poem for five to ten seconds to let it sink in. Perhaps I would’ve done better just to read the poems one by one on the website and click the individual audio players for each, but I find light text on a dark background too much of an eye-strain.
So why do I like these poems so much? For one thing, because I don’t understand them fully, in the same way I don’t expect to understand a folktale from another culture, but can appreciate its authenticity and utter originality. Nic’s poems are every bit as spacious and surreal as Howie Good’s, but are less dark — or at least their darknesses are more Rilkean. And whereas yesterday’s book — The Doors of the Body by Mary Alexandra Agner — re-worked traditional and sacred tales from a modern perspective, Nic’s project here is almost the opposite: making new myths in the ancient mold, or the beginnings of myths. There’s a soil maiden, a charcoal man, a baobab girl, and a man who marries a great cat. There are “places of happiness” on five continents where the land acts as matchmaker. Naming plays a central role in many of the poems; words have genuine power here, whether to invoke, bless or curse, which is what makes the absence of obvious interpretations for many of the poems so tolerable, at least for me. I am of course aware that for many readers of a more postmodern bent, poems of enchantment are automatically suspect, and Nic seems to anticipate that reaction, too, in poems such as “we have no need of prophets” and “poem for mother’s day“:
you ask why
I write of budding
spring and rising
sap would you rather I wrote
of razor wire and cold
the chiseled ivory of your sleeping
face your paper eyelids gliding
bricks in the wall
of your sleeping
face mother the deep miles
of night sky with no moon
One poem seems to describe some sort of political activist. As with most of the poems in the book, the language keeps luring me back to re-read it until I think I have a pretty firm idea of what it’s about, but who’d want to be sure? See what you think:
what is it like living with your body
splayed your whole body
spread tense up to the thin wires
of your brown hair the all of you threaded
through the squirming loam
the itching seas of this
a stick figure with pigtails and
squeaky voice runs back and forth
across your muscle across all your pitched
nerve calling in from Zinguinchor from
Dili blogging from Cali from
Baghdad exploding in chipmunk
outrage in small burning
keep the position taken swaying
like the first like the only
A thoroughly modern subject there, perhaps, but what I find especially attractive are the animistic elements: that squirming loam, those itching seas, even the thin wires and animated stick figure in which I recognize a bit of myself. This is the kind of book that makes me want to seek deeper and more meaningful connections to the earth. It may seem strange to say about a book whose availability in multiple electronic formats is one of its selling points, but after reading Forever Will End on Thursday, I wanted nothing more than to leave the computer and go for a walk in the rain-drenched woods. And so I did.
I’m reading a book a day for Poetry Month, but I’m also hoping some folks will join me and fellow poet-blogger Kristin Berkey-Abbott to read just four of those books. Details here.
15 Replies to “Forever Will End on Thursday by Nic S.”
Thanks so much for this very kind review, Dave! Glad you found things to like in the collection and very grateful you made the time to write your thoughts down. Best always, Nic
I admire this task you have taken on. Maybe next year I”ll give it ago. I read the reviews but don’t respond, wanted you to know you are being read.
The other thing I wanted to share with you is something literary critic Christoper Ricks (“Visions of Sin, Bob Dylan Lyrics” and “Beckett’s Dying Words”) says about reviewing poetry, well this is how I remember it: “Poetry is the one art where you use the same medium to critic the art” In essence, we can use word to critique and describe paintings, music, photography but we write about writing with writing. No small thing. Bravo!
Hey, thanks for that — quite true! Good to know you’ve following along this month.
Nice closure, Dave! And lovely to see what Nic is doing…
You are managing to come up with no ways of responding–very clever, and it does keep the project interesting.
I hope your walk was not as wild and windy as cold as one would be here this afternoon.
It was windy here yesterday — that’s what took out the power, I’m sure.
(I think Mary means “new ways of responding,” but I like “no ways of responding.” It’s like your originality stems from your being Zen or dead or something.)
I’m embarrassed to say that, as much as I’ve enjoyed her web sites and her readings of others’ poetry, I’ve read almost nothing of Nic’s own poetry. That ends today, I say. The stuff you quote is too good not to hold in my hand.
Speaking of Zen, when I read these poems, particularly “underlie,” I was more conscious of my breath than I was of even the sounds I was hearing, the tone I was taking, or the workout my lips were involved in (I love the way my face moves while I say, “Baghdad exploding in chipmunk / outrage in small burning /agony”). Where meaning isn’t too evident but all that physicality is, I wonder if something in me is getting it while my brain is put on some kind of task maybe to get it out of the way.
A handsomely written review, Dave. I’m taking away some pointers since I can’t dance, either.
And if you order Nic’s book from Lulu.com this month and enter code APRILMAIL305 almost at the end of the checkout process where indicated, the mail shipping is free. (The book is already inexpensive enough — $5.98 for 74 pages of poetry. See gen. Nic’s post here to find out why.)
“calling in from Zinguinchor from
Dili blogging from Cali from
Baghdad exploding in chipmunk
outrage in small burning
Peter – I repeated the full phrasing above so the subject of the sentence is clear, but thanks for noting that – fascinating and bears thinking about. Nic
Thanks for the kind words about my not-reviewing, and I’m glad you were moved to order a copy of the book! I think Nic’s choice to dispense with punctuation really works, but listening to her read the poems while I followed along made me perhaps less open to alternate syntactical possibilities than I would’ve been otherwise.
Hey, thanks for that info, Peter – who knew! And thanks for obtaining a copy of the collection in your preferred format – I do hope you enjoy it. Best, Nic
Fine, thoughtful review of a poet whose work I’ve come to deeply appreciate. I am ever thankful she publishes online.
Dear Dave, I just stumbled upon you and your review-a-day project thanks to my friend Wendy Vardaman posting a link to you on Facebook. (FB is good for SOMETHING!) Anyway, as someone who is new to writing reviews I feel like I have found the motherlode here. There is so much to absorb and learn. I have been really challenged and grateful to write some reviews (again, thanks to Wendy and Sarah at Verse Wisconsin) and in just quickly reading the review on Nic S.’s book, I feel like I have landed on my home planet. I have been trying to figure out why I like writing reviews. I think your efforts in this realm are going to help me. I know it has something to do with the way it makes me engage in poetry in a way I don’t do if I simply read it. Knowing I am going to try and say something articulate about it makes me read and gestalt in a different, better, newer way. So who is the review for? The poet (to sell more books) HA! The poetry reading public? (hmm, do they exist outside of the world of poetry? Good lord, they better!) or the reviewer (who learns all kinds of things about herself and how poetry works and her own poetry when she writes reviews.) Well, anyway, I need to eat my cereal and get my 12-year-old off to school. But, I can feel myself getting totally lost in the “Review a Day” project and I can’t wait to get back to reading more of these this evening. Thank you for getting my day off to an amazing start!
Hi Lisa – Wow, thanks for that very validating comment! I’m glad you find this series useful to your own writing about books. Not all my responses this month are reviews, but I guess most could be described that way. I’m interested in writing creatively about books, in creating a secondary literature that is also, in some respects, primary. Not only is it more fun to write and provokes deeper engagement with the text, but I think the results are more interesting to readers, too.