Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Noelle Kocot, _The Bigger World_

I WAS NOT sure this project was going to work, but now it's done: seven volumes of poetry in seven days. Each one worth reading, too, different as they were.

My only previous work of Kocot that I was acquainted with before picking up The Bigger World is Poem for the End of the Millennium and Other Poems; this book is not quite as interesting as that one, though that's setting the bar rather high.

The title page of this volume bears the subtitle, "The Character Poems of Noelle Kocot."  Almost all of the poems are short narratives about (I presume) fictional characters, usually identified in the first few lines and often in the very first word: Horatia, Rick, Jelka, Seymour, a new character in each poem.

The poems inhabit a territory bordered on one side by Anne Sexton's Transformations, her sardonic, illusionless re-fashioning of the Brothers Grimm, and on the other side by Sheila Heti's Middle Stories, faux-naïf modern urban fairy tales. They sometimes venture into the surreal:

Seymour left the beach and traveled
Down a dirt road. He met a naked
Nun, and said, "Hey, what kind of
Dominoes are you slicing?"


The nun sings "a tortured love song about her husband, / Who died before she entered the convent," which got my attention, since Kocot's "Poem for the End of the Millennium" is about the death of her own husband.  Ann in "No One Would be Home" is also a widow, one who "finally let go of her / Dead husband."

She felt the need to tell the world,
But now, the world looked
So big, and Ann was small,
Like her name.

The source of the volume's title, perhaps? I can imagine that the world of a single person--a newly single person especially, perhaps--is bigger than the world of a couple. Couples supply a certain amount of each other's needs, perhaps, thus constituting in themselves a small world, but a single person has to get up and get out to find what she needs, so perforce has to belong to a bigger world. For Ann, the world has become more out-there, less in-here than it used to be:

She quieted herself, she
Quieted herself, and realized that
When she left, no one would be home.

The poem that struck me hardest was "Fugue"--I think the only poem in the volume in which the character is given no name, but is only "she."

     A wild loneliness
Descended like a flock
Of robins drained of their red.

[Now, there's a simile.  A loneliness at once familiar (robins being a very common bird) but new in a terrible way, its most distinctive and comforting feature mysteriously evaporated.]

Nothing seemed to matter
Anymore, not the past with
Its ax of granite nor the future
with its watery punctuation,

[the past as something we are "cut off" from? Separated from by something hard, unyielding, impenetrable?  The future as furnished with meant-to-be-reassuring signposts and directional markers, which turn out to be mobile, in flux, unreliable?]

But the moment, yes the moment,
She was forced into it like
So much dough between
The fingers.

[That kind of moment.  We've all had them.]

     "God bless us all,"
She said aloud to everyone and no one.
There is no other life.

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