Literary: Book Review
Nancy Takacs’ new volume of poetry is full of startling imagery and delicate revelations
If for a moment you imagine language as a length of rope, a poem forms when you start tying knots in the rope and pulling them tight, snugging them and squeezing all the air out. The poet may then submit to the reader that his imagination run over the knots like fingers over a set of prayer beads. I don’t know if Nancy Takacs knows this, but she knows this. And her new volume of poetry, The Worrier, is an astonishing collection studded with miraculous knots of imagery and revelation as startling and delicate as bird tracks in the snow.
Each poem in the book is titled “The Worrier,” with a subtitle appended that carefully focuses it. The poems are arranged in a question/answer pattern in which an unidentified speaker questions the poet, who responds in her own voice:
Very quickly, I suspect, readers of The Worrier will identify this structure as catechism, a call and response learning ritual, an ancient model of teaching through rhythm and the emphatic declaration of belief.
What is that scar on your thumb?
It’s a gray desert road, with small tracks.
How is it wandering?
It goes far into a valley with pink mountains.
Who lives there?
The snake who is always eros.
The lizard who flexes
in my shadow.
We are likely to imagine at first glance that the title refers to worry in the quotidian sense: anxiety, perseverance over looming problems or pending catastrophe. On one level, the structure of the book replicates worry itself; the repeated title is a loop the mind follows as it worries, flowing from internal to personal, to external, global and existential. But we quickly understand that a subtler reading is demanded.
The poet has invited us to observe as she parses the many questions posed here, combing through them in order to unravel—to try or worry out of them—a central comprehension: What is it that makes—and keeps—us alive? According to one reading of the poems in The Worrier, one answer is resilience in the face of human mystery, from which emerges an unending challenge to what we take as truth.
And Takacs is in unrelenting pursuit of the answers—reworking, re-asking, reconsidering and demanding the reader’s unyielding attention. She’s asking each of us to join her in pulling apart our collective mortal experience, strand by strand, in order to understand what is at its heart.
And the indomitable voice we follow throughout these poems resonates with a visionary, hypnotic and absorbing force, as in “The Worrier—skin”:
What lives on the skin?
And in a later stanza:
A mirror and a cloud of tumbleweed.
Why a mirror?
It’s the way he can touch me.
Where does the skin end?
Here is a central device of the poems in The Worrier: a dramatic shift in scale. The finite boundaries of the skin yielding to the imponderable breadth of a star cluster deep in the galaxy. And when we arrive, what is there? More questions, to be sure, but always an array of arresting responses.
In a brazen
Here, too, is an imperishable voice, running like a harmonic thread through the incantatory landscape of these poems. Takacs successfully labors to get at our urgent, implacable impulse to dig beneath the surface—any surface that might conceal an answer that will assuage our wonder.
In “The Worrier—old woman,” we witness the parallel of an aging woman and an elm, a majestic but dying species. The poem urges the reader to think about love as something fierce and mad but healing:
She was crazy. She
would circle the block
while I was playing with friends
or riding my bike.
What did she do?
She turned and turned to look at me.
Why did she do this?
She loved me.
This is ritual dialogue that transcends skin, bone and brain, leaving the reader with a query of his own. From where do the questions emerge? Are these questions she is asking herself, or is a numinous, secondary voice probing her understanding, involving us in her explorations of a universal self? The answers challenge the questions, and the reader is urged to decide just how welcome these demanding and unforgiving voices truly are.
Takacs has a deeply feminine and generative voice—forceful and clear, registering internal and minute detail and connecting herself and her readers with the natural world against which we examine ourselves.
||Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
The Sea-change of Howard Brough
New works at Finch Lane
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange
In a now-legendary time, Howard Brough carried primary responsibility for the splendid, if spatially challenging gallery on the fourth floor of the City Library. During those years of service he must have dreamed, like so many creative industry adjuncts, from gallery directors to gallerists, from publishers to publisher’s reps, of one day having his own show in the space that had accommodated everyone from eager tyros to living legends.
And then, one day, he did it: left the gallery after, as parting gesture, he’d filled it with the substantial product of an entire life’s art making (see our article here). Or so it seemed at the time . . . but it wasn’t true. Rather, Brough’s gentle manner camouflaged a prolific painter: an incisive observer, ruthless poet, and merciless social critic. As evidence, a dozen brand-new, genre-blending icons appeared in Finch Lane this January, each boasting a crowd of satirical figures, ranging from Holofernes—a chicken named after the vengeful, Old Testament marauder—to Miss Judy—a neck-wringing chef resembling the Biblical Judith, who seduced and beheaded that too-human scourge. Other mythic stories infused with local references include “The Miracle of the Gulz,” “The Dee-lirium of Profut Bundy,” “O Susanna and the Elders,” and the “Temptation of Saint Tony.” Each transforms its iconic subject, traditional or modern, into an amalgam of quilt pattern, comic illustration, and cubist portrait, accompanied by a vernacular “Canticle.” It’s fortunate that Howard Brough’s latest work will be up only until February 24, as anyone trying to see it all in one visit risks viewer fatigue from a riot of details and a plethora of jokes that together reinvent that weary phrase: an original vision.
"The Dee-lirium of Profut Bundy"
15 Bytes: About Us
Our editorial contributors
Simon Blundell is a Salt Lake City native and has studied art, communication, journalism, design, and advertising. He has an MFA and continues to explore photography and art in all its aspects.
Amy Brunvand is an award-winning poet and an associate librarian at the Marriott Library at the University of Utah.
Hannah Sandorf Davis is pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in visual arts at Brigham Young University. She is also a journalist for the BYU College of Humanities.
| Laura Durham is a community engagement coordinator and producer for KUED Channel-7. Prior to her work at KUED, Laura spent 15 years at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums.
Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She also worked for City Weekly and has written for such publications as Utah Business and Salt Lake magazines.
Shawn Rossiter was raised on the East Coast. He has degrees in English, French and Italian literature. A professional artist and writer, he founded Artists of Utah in 2001 and is editor of its magazine, 15 Bytes.
Kelly Skeen is an independent arts writer and marketer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she's worked in the gallery world as an art consultant, marketing director and gallery director.
|Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.