This Noisy Egg by Nicole Walker
(Barrow Street Press, March 2010)
No matter how many classes I take, no matter how many literary journals I read, poetry still makes me nervous. The distinction between brilliant and appalling sometimes seems to be made based on how much sleep you got the night before, and it’s just so scary to look at that line and realize that everyone else around you picked the opposite side.
It needn’t be that difficult, right?
All I ask of poetry is that it sends me off with strings of words that run themselves through my thoughts with the tenacity of a Top 40 hit. I want to hear and see with the weird intensity that comes after leaving a movie theater. I want to snuggle into images as I do my favorite memories. This might be a childish way to read poetry, but so be it. Because under those guidelines, Nicole Walker’s debut collection, This Noisy Egg, does all the right things.
Walker’s thirty-nine poems (nineteen of which have been previously published) meditate on conception of all kinds – birth, rebirth, beliefs. So much in these poems feels lost or unfulfilled for the many speakers though there are lighter moments as well. “A Number of Things Are Scarily Lacking” – a list not unlike a Whitman poem or a Cole Porter song – counts on both the humorous (“9. A hotdog. No condiments.” “18. Telling your boyfriend that he looks like Alan Alda.”) as well as the crushing (“6. Your loud voice, no whispers, only walls acoustic.” “30. Turning. 30. No able-bodied Superman to spin the world backward—make up for lost time.”).
The physicality of being often emerges through the emotionality. “She doubled in size & split into you, your mother’s personal geometry. / One noisy seed caused a sea of regret & repainted walls,” says the narrator of “Bivalves.” And in “The Coroner Senses a Blackbird” – “My body told a story my mouth could / not hide.”
As might be expected, the collection wavers a bit in the middle. “What Is Wanted from the Suicides” is probably the weakest piece, not really adding anything to the thick stack of suicide poetry already in existence. I wouldn’t not recommend the book as a result of it, though. Especially by the time we get to my favorite lines in the collection, which are in the middle of “Where P is P & not P”: “You will / find the compass / which will / tell you what lines you must read.” (Note: sometimes you stumble across exactly what you need to hear.)
While most of the poems fall into a standard page-or-so length, the penultimate poem, “The Unlikely Origin of the Species,” stretches for almost twelve full pages. It is here where the changing rules of childhood parallel the just as random rules for which animals become pets while others are left to the wild. It’s actually the narrator of “Canister and Turkey Vulture” that explains the themes most aptly: “everything that stands between the oh so obvious / and the almost can’t imagine.” (Almost can’t imagine – Darwin and St. Francis of Assisi in a tryst.)
The broken sections of the poem are marked with Greek symbols and headline-esque words. To that end, Walker’s note to the poem adds much to “Unlikely” as well as the collection as a whole: “But doesn’t it nearly make you cry when you realize the alphabet doesn’t have to begin with the letter A?”
Amy Whipple is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh. Readers can also find her at <http://www.amywhipple.com/>.