by Jackson Meazle
Sara Nicholson‘s debut, The Living Method (The Song Cave, 2014), doesn’t cease to amuse or elude me. The poem’s movement from one image-thought to the next possesses an air of elated mystery. Like Rilke’s vertigo, her vision of the outside lingers over naming and describing through constantly new eyes.
The house will be what it is not—a song—
a song is not like a house but it could be.
We must not think of ourselves as inhabitants
but as workers who descend
who will wait without fluency for the water
that does not answer us, for the water
that does not build along with us.
The referent of “house” is in flux, yet she adds new breadth to each expository couplet. As a result, we are shown the collage of the imagination at a steady pace. These poems are not fast and they are not slow. I say this because some readers may believe that the works are at times slowly wistful. They reach mediocre speed running through the book, which compliments the searching kind of music underneath her lines.
I saw something.
The mountain became unfamiliar
as the hill was familiarized—ciphers of hair
and autumn at rest in the body.
Seeing a field, we will set it out in prose
and signs will be hidden in the monotony
of lyricism—I heard something—signals
over a purslane coast.
While the pace of the book is steady, the language moves effortlessly from heady to pedestrian. She tells us we will probably Google one of the poem’s titles, and that she “swore that the thesaurus / would give meaning to the galaxy.” It’s a tone that is erudite and therefore jokey. Where there are basic poetic images—birds, the moon, oceans, and mountains—there’s also an impressive array of naming and coloring of a variety of flowers and plant-life. An antique quality pervades the forlorn lines even though their arrangement snaps them out of their respective nostalgia. They move perfectly from the philosophical to nature-bound elemental with easy temperance. Traceries of thought are examined and cast aside.
We let ourselves out into the flood
because we forgot about snow.
I’m thinking about killing you, birds,
but there are too few of you, too many of me.
The pigeon certainly does not sing.
What you’re hearing is radio
in the eaves tonight. The song you’re hearing
is built out of flesh, I can’t wait
to torrent it when the seasons change.
It really happened. You sang. Your blood.
Your Alsatian blood with violets
and a dollop of breath. Salt in restaurants,
music in the mediocre air.
The diary-like parataxis exhumes a tendency toward standing mundane imagery on its head. This kind of language has an unrelenting turn of phrase, which is why the scenery is often fleeting. Coming back to the poems sharpens one’s shifting impressions of her tableau, each time revealing something that was maybe hidden. The composition veers close to extra-sensory, and it is as if one’s not initiated or tuned to her wavelength. Much like the book’s cover, a painting of an intentionally upside-down still-life resembling a human head, the poems present the illusion of perception as no one’s fault but their own. Nicholson’s poems eschew conventional wisdom and beauty by concocting a personal nuance for any moment worth recording or dismissing.
Sequester all your pity
for the blue flowers
for they don’t deserve it
Donate your antibodies
to the not-so-poor
Love’s as intoxicating
as a Mastercard
and the sight of mayflies
in the evening gives
credence to our faith
If little blue flowers
are a niche interest
so are literary genres
I’ve been told
I appear a scholar
in my gold lamé
[from “The Art of Symmetry”]
Chiseling the prism-face of poetry, she has made her own place and her own way, rendering for us that which is eternally on tip of the tongue.
The Living Method is available at City Lights Bookstore from The Song Cave and Small Press Distribution. Matthew Henrikson praised the book, saying, “I’ve read very few poets of my generation who have so decidedly shrugged off pretense and posturing. She’s pure hippocampus, navigating the external world from deep within the internal. We hear a voice speaking to us, but that voice comes from a crowded place, amid a thousand thoughts we do not hear. Her poems have no angle. They touch on the occult and hermetic but do not wear them as a shroud. They reach out from the radius into the radiant.”
For more contemporary poetry, visit City Lights Books and come to the Poetry Room upstairs. A great selection is also available on our website.