Once in a while I like to read new poetry. I keep Walt, Emily, Jane and Tony aside, and look for new voices, new singers, new melodies and new chords. Here is one that I found interesting. Sara Nicholson, whose new book What the Lyric Is, a collection of poems was recently published. Her first book was The Living Method.
With A Hie Downe Downe A Downe-A
When I die, I want my body turned into a harp. I got this idea from “The Twa Sisters,” one of the Child ballads. It’s a simple enough story—two sisters have the hots for the same guy, and the elder sister, out of jealousy I guess, drowns the younger one. A poet finds her body floating downriver, and he fashions a musical instrument from her corpse. From her breast-bone, he shapes the body of the instrument (sometimes a violin, other times a harp), and from her hair and veins, he gets his strings. When he plays the instrument, the girl’s voice sings; she laments the cruelty of fortune and, in some versions, reveals the identity of her murderer. There is something beautiful, or beautifully necessary, for me, about the violence of this ballad. That out of poetry, can come justice. Out of the tragedy of metamorphosis, song. Mostly, I think that the “I” of my poems exists somewhere between the dead sister and the living instrument. I hope that this says something about the title of my book.
A good friend of mine, the poet and translator Michael Thomas Taren, says, “Writing is a way of being alone but it’s also / being with oneself without loathing or deceit.” Though I’ve never before felt the need to write a sentence that begins “poetry is,” poetry is, for me, first of all, a method of self-preservation. A way of engaging with the fucked-up world while also keeping myself sane. But poetry’s also a method of imposing order on the universe. And order, in poetry, means structure and prosody. Coleridge says that meter should feel like “wine during animated conversation”—that is, it should heighten the senses, focus your awareness, and make a little more bearable the fact that you’re listening to another person speak. But it also drugs perception, creates a “medicated atmosphere.” You don’t notice how much wine you’re drinking, and then poof, you’re wasted. So, I hopeThe Living Method is, in the Coleridgean sense, a can of vintage Four Loko for the ear. I hope to drug you, if only to prove that it’s my breast-bone, my hair, my veins you’re hearing sing.
The Middle Ages
There is much I haven’t told you about
I am here
Reading a book in the dark.
My brain has a heart and the hollowed-out
Top of my skull is green and blue
And pink, like a sea cave.
My heart has a face. It is ugly
Like the world is. There is poetry
In the word poverty, a flower
That is in fact a symbol
That is ancient and difficult, difficult
And ancient. Utterly inaccessible
Because it is mine.