Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Review: "Ordinary Beast: Poems" by Nicole Sealey

Though we're not so self-
important as to think everything

has led to this, everything has led to this.
There's a name for the animal

love makes of us—named, I think,
like rain, for the sound it makes.

Continuing my foray into contemporary poetry, I recently picked up Ordinary Beast, a new collection of poems by Nicole Sealey. The book was named one of NPR's most anticipated poetry books of 2017, and reading Sealey's work, you certainly can understand why.

This is a fascinating collection, at times dazzling, at times perplexing, but continuously powerful and emotional. Sealey writes with a burning passion about love, sex, race, history, and legacy, using words that immediately conjure vivid images. Interestingly enough, while some poems appear and read more like "traditional" poems, some appear and read more like prose, but they're no less effective.

I love you, I say, desperate
to admit that
the flesh extends its vanity
to an unknown land
where all the wild swarm.
This is not death. It is something safer,
almost made of air—
I think they call it

The collection contains 26 poems, many of which are quite short, some of which use an experimental style of layout, which made it difficult to gauge the poem's full meaning. Since I'm close to being a poetry neophyte, I tended to enjoy those poems which were a little more traditional, the ones whose meaning seemed more evident. But even in those poems which didn't quite work for me, Sealey's talent was immensely evident, line after powerful line.

We fit somewhere between god
and mineral, angel and animal,

believing a thing as sacred as the sun rises
and falls like an ordinary beast.

I've really been enjoying this exploration of contemporary poetry. I'm learning that, just like the world of fiction, the depth of talent out there today is immense, and I'm also beginning to understand the type of works which appeal to me. Nicole Sealey is clearly an artist in this genre, and I'd encourage those of you who enjoy a mix of styles in your poetry to pick up this collection.

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