Review by John Hitzel
Chirp! Resounding: A Poetic Debut
Nicole Walker’s debut poetry collection This Noisy Egg trembles with the intensity of a pot about to boil over—something inside wants out. Walker’s speaker in “The Coroner Senses a Blackbird” intones, “I spoke, even without my tongue. / My body told a story my mouth could / not hide.” Her speakers inhabits moments like the birds that occupy her poems do: caught in flight, wings splayed, talons prepared to rip something from the shadows that only bird-poet-vision can locate. In This Noisy Egg, Nicole Walker creates brief, unpredictable universes that are serious fun to inhabit.
In “Fall Service,” the speaker addresses a bird. “O broke back swallow— / tuck your head into your breast. / A breeze will lift your wing. / It wants to fly you.” The book roils with inversions like these. By reinterpreting the world, the poet rediscovers some of the mystery that civilization has either lost or intentionally left behind. Where we end up is nothing like where we begin. That unexpectedness allows these poems to go anywhere, and they do—they explore. In “As if a fact,” “I cut my own hands off / to see what would flow / and out like gravel rolled bird and sunflower / seed…The world, revised, is beige not turquoise. / That is easier to swallow.”
Walker likes to update myths and old stories by complicating them with concerns of contemporary life: what if Apollo had to deal with being made of neutrinos? What if someone literally dug a child’s fantasy hole to China? What would a message from Persephone to a down-on-her-luck Daphne read like? Inside these unlikely circumstances, she places delicious images, as in the “Red pearl threatening bubble-burst” that opens “Persephone Envy,” or at the ending of “Topography,” where a carpenter can “owl the sky / and needle the moon.” The speaker of “Winter Trees” asks for a bird’s nest in her ear, “To hear the stick-cracking / ring my teeth / turn my tongue / to water.” By traversing unexplored territory, armed with a microscope, Walker opens gateways to the grandiose where readers least expect them.
At times, Walker’s poems move via suggestion and undercurrents—what is happening beneath, around, and between the words matters more than the language itself. Other times I felt as if I were caught in a language washing machine, tossed about and disoriented. Then the chaos would settle, and I’d feel refreshed, like something significant had happened. I enjoy the way these poems resist direct interpretation, how they don’t allow neat little one-shot meanings or “This poem is about…” statements to be made easily after my first romp through them. I think that all poems, if you want them to, mean something, but I am not the sort of reader who cares too much about what poems “mean.” I privilege the ride, the experience of immersing myself in these little emotionally-charged universes, and that is where Walker succeeds. If you want poems that will tell you to re-evaluate your philosophy, these are not them. If you want poems that will re-arrange the way you see the world, welcome.
Nicole Walker’s freewheeling voice and fresh perspective conspire to create a truly original, invigorating collection of poetry. This Noisy Egg bursts with zaniness and emotional honesty. Don’t let this osprey-eyed author escape your sights.
This Noisy Egg Barrow Street Press. 2010. 78 pages