Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On the Other Side, Blue Reviewed in SF Chronicle

Review by Stephen Burt

If you want a more extroverted new poet, one closer to memoir than to photography, try Collier Nogues' debut, On the Other Side, Blue (Four Way; 66 pages; $15.95). Most of Nogues' pages react to the death of her mother; most of the rest speak to or about other people - extended family, failed romantic partners ("The Greyhound Bus Break-Up"), a friend's deceased father, "Cousin Charles," and the man who would become her husband (they're engaged by the end of the book). Nogues covers familiar landmarks of modern mourning: the hospital, the funeral, the awkward, belated scattering of ashes. But her poems, sentence by sentence, are much stranger, hence truer, than summary implies: She shows us quirks, ironies, bits that we cannot expect.

Sometimes she does it with simple observation: "Lawn chairs in the shallows, parked there, almost lap-deep;/ their aluminum legs filled with water, so the sand is rocking them." Sometimes she does it with a shocking slogan, as in "Portrait of Your Grandmother With Alzheimer's" "The past// won't kill itself, the present has to snap its neck/ and you are the present's emissary." Her love life, too, invites sour ironies: "we're dating, which means another month of asking if we're having fun." "Long Weekend," addressed to an old friend, begins with two shocks: "No one loves me like your mother, now my mother's gone./ A beer an hour ought to hold me."

Nogues' life, her quips and declarations say, has been good to her, and good for her, and yet the deaths around her once made all of it faintly bitter, and faintly absurd. Nogues (who teaches at UC Irvine) gets her effects from her syntax and tone, not from sound; her long-lined, halting poetry never quite sings. It offers, instead, sentences and memories you might share with a hard-to-please friend, reflections you may also, someday, need.

Read more here.