When I Go Outdoors, Light Splits

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The poems in This Noisy Egg are always engaging and hold the reader’s attention, but they do not feel un-tethered or dangerous. Reading them, I had the sensation that there was little room for what Stanley Kunitz called “wilderness,” the part of the poem that appears to write itself, unhinged from the fantasies and illusions of the Writer.

Nicole Walker’s This Noisy Egg uses the fluorescent colors of Surrealism, sometimes bordering on the delight of non sequiturs to both conceal and reveal. Walker’s pure and resilient facility with language allow the metaphors to make broad leaps; in this way her diction becomes both a door and a window.

While rarely straying from the local and the personal, the poems give way—particularly later in the book—to darker, more elusive themes: fertility, science, flight, motherhood and daughterhood, and the fractured, glued-together self. These are the multiple meanings of the titular noisy egg. Fascinatingly, these poems are impressive for their deft hand at the element of surprise. They rely little on changes in voice and tone, so either you like the person speaking to you in the poems—she is, by the way, a sensitive and intelligent speaker—or you don’t. The strongest poems never cease to whirl around sense, hurdling this way and that, especially when the landing point is a distance from the starting point. Yet through all these leaps the writer is under control; the reader is never unsure of the product because he feels the process was contained.

For example, “Psalm,” a small and quiet poem, takes advantages of its minimalism to great effect. The last few lines: “Thick praise is double-voiced / This praise / Reaches farther / Than cross or barb / And is even” suggests being divisible by two, but also “in spite of” or “notwithstanding” and an intensive. In this way, the poem’s subtleties demonstrate many of the themes recurring the book. “What Is Wanted from the Suicides” does the same, but with longer stanzas and longer lines; these contain 15-20 syllables and their strength comes from the weirdness of the voice: (“sizzles, crackles. Feed the guests my yield. // Because when I go outdoors, light splits”). The poem blends gallows humor and the intensity of the speaker’s trauma with a wide range of allusions: Orson Welles, Hollandaise sauce, the NRA, and psychiatric drugs.

The poems in this book are always engaging and hold the reader’s attention, but they do not feel un-tethered or dangerous. Reading them, I had the sensation that there was little room for what Stanley Kunitz called “wilderness,” the part of the poem that appears to write itself, unhinged from the fantasies and illusions of the Writer. Take, for example, “Quetzaltenango,” a kind of travelogue through Guatemala’s jungles and pyramids. It’s a prose poem, so it deliberately plays with conventions of narrative even as it tries to send fireworks up here and there with its verbal maneuvers: “she sees prisms of onyx and malty stalagmites signaling from the caves.” On the other hand, it reeks of the same speaker being shoved into a moment of exotica, confounded by the Other (in this case, Guatemala). The third section is specifically described, but it approaches being unsurprising: “I find a dress I truly love but I can’t bargain down to 10 quetzales and I am very close to running out of cash because of some American food weakness and the plane ride to Tikal”; it was meant to be comic relief, but feels forced because the speaker is a voyeur, and a little dull.

By contrast, the Notes at the end contain some of the most evocative and passionate writing in the book. It wildly shows the writer’s erudition, taste, and a pure pleasure of language. They are the wilderness sometimes edited out of the other parts. I would have included several more pages of these notes, which are poems themselves, as well as extensions of the poems that precede them for which they provide reference and background. The notes are totally original and feel released from concerns about being poems. They feel like the rough country and malty ceilings that the travel poem was trying to get at.

Walker has a terrific ear, all twang and blue chords wrangled from both fury against and affection for the universe. Everywhere in the book are phrases and word choices most writers come upon infrequently: “Dogs prefer to please their masters. / Pigs prefer to eat the raw bounty.”; “With my clotspur whistling. With my elbows ringing.”; sewn melon, seeded lupine, blushing first.”; “I want the folds / to be my own belly button / unraveled. Look at the lint! I let it ladder.” In this last instance, the sensitive reader gets the horrible longing the speaker feels for not having had a child. Instead of lifeblood, the navel contains only lint. The off-rhyme of “unraveled” and “ladder” only enhance this already disturbing, contradictory, and self-effacing image. Besides having a masterful way with metaphor, much of the power here comes from the razor’s edge of precisely chosen words and their juxtapositions.

An important thread throughout this book is one of fertility, childbirth, “giving up daughters you never had,” pregnancy, and the broader attendant ideas of existence versus nonexistence. Various figures appear to discuss these complicated questions: Saint Monica (Augustine’s mother), Sarah, Persephone, Darwin, organs of respiration, bivalves, the conservation of matter, etc. Of all the multiple ideas and forms in This Noisy Egg, this thread emerges as the most profound. It expresses, through beauty and extreme tension, the various painful, angst-ridden, guilt-ridden, and unequal emotions many women in their 20s and 30s must feel when confronted with thoughts of if and when to have children. Poems are a vital way through which these can be discussed and viewed. The poems in This Noisy Egg have great style and quality of style, and you should buy it.

Read “Call the Clock,” a Rumpus Original Poem by Nicole Walker

Sean Singer’s first book Discography won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. He has also published two chapbooks, Passport and Keep Right On Playing Through the Mirror Over the Water, both with Beard of Bees Press and is the recipient of a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work has recently appeared in Memorious, Pleiades, Souwester, Iowa Review, New England Review, and Salmagundi. He has a Ph.D. in American Studies from Rutgers-Newark. He lives in Harlem, New York City. More from this author →