Anybody, nobody, somebody

Kelly Liu

Editorial assistant Kelly Liu makes her capsule reviews debut with three recent poetry titles: Anybody by Ari Banias, Civilization Makes Me Lonely by Jennifer Nelson, and Commodore by Jacqueline Waters.

, Ari Banias (W. W. Norton & Company, 2016)

Banias’s Anybody recontextualizes familiar, everyday objects against the backdrop of gender and identity, lamenting a world of labels where “The earplugs and tangerine resemble / each other in color, but this doesn’t / hugely matter. If only we didn’t / care about what doesn’t matter / but people do.” In descriptions that are simultaneously general and specific, far and near, distant and intimate, Banias offers “compact shapes of affection and sadness / which the words affection and sadness do not convey.” The forms of his poems deconstruct in the same way: at times spatial and apparitional, at times condensed and urgent, he wades us through the questions of pronouns, of naming, and ultimately of living every day wondering “what to wear, what to wear …”

Civilization Makes Me Lonely
, Jennifer Nelson (Ahsahta Press, 2017)

Nelson’s Civilization Makes Me Lonely, a collection in five parts, is an active interrogation of society — past, present, future. Pulling from the art of Pieter Bruegel and computer code, Nelson examines our changing relation and growing responsibility to an ever-shifting world. She writes, “I … Kept telling people to dodge / The arrow” while lamenting how “We can’t be agents of an arrow coming toward us.” But “if <time’s arrow wounds> / is constitutive / of life lived hermeneutically,” then perhaps we can reclaim control through living consciously. From making social commentary in a blackout piece to subverting the sonnet form to “driving way too fast / and the road narrows suddenly in a park / where I have to ride up onto a hill / and go airborne / to avoid hitting Black people / or interracial families,” Nelson urges us to not just examine the past and present critically, but to always look out for where we are going moving forward.

, Jacqueline Waters (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017)

Commodore is intensely observant, aware, and self-aware. Examining calculated interactions of the public sphere as dictated by social norms, Waters writes about being “at the gym where you’re / the only woman and pretend / not to be looking when a man / fails to lift his weight.” She further ventures into the private, speaking about love and relations self-consciously, writing, “Why do I strike out things / I think will reveal too much — / I mean in my other poems, not / this one where I am sort of / letting it all lie.” Blurring the line between affect as noun and affect as verb, between lie and lie, Waters conscripts the readers as the “commander” and asks us to “reach for / more to see and feel / beyond that to which / you have grown accustomed[.]”