Book Review

Forever Will End on Thursday by Nic Sebastian, Lordly Dish Nanopress, 2011. Print edition $5.98; CD $5.50; PDF, e-book-mp3 formats downloadable free.

Reviewed by Sherry Chandler

As I immersed myself in Nic Sebastian’s Forever Will End on Thursday, I found the word Fauvism floating around the edges of my thought. Why was that? When I explored the question, I realized it’s the wildness in these poems, a primacy of emotion, a rawness, even, that reminds me of the raw colors and emotions of the Fauvists.

In “the jungle and the bungalow,” for example, a cat woman quarrels (an understatement) with her lover:

she bursts
through the wall shedding splintered glass
and shattered brick along
the driveway leaves him hurled
and crumpled by the empty fireplace
clawed lacerations oozing deep
in his chest

Later, quarrel resolved in favor of the jungle, “she rubs her head against the thick / scars on his chest.” We are dealing here with something more than a human woman, something folkloric if not archetypal.

Love is urgent in Sebastian’s world, as in “places of happiness (Dartmoor)”:

and there you were all over me
dragging open the buttons of my shirt

The senses are dominant:

and I all pliant with orange eyelids
 
on the open moor listening
to the choir of your breathing
and the skylarks with the sweet purple heather
 
crushing itself against my cheek

A series of shamanistic fables adds to the elemental feel of Forever Will End on Thursday. These poems have titles like “the soil maiden,” “baobab girl,” “charcoal man,” and “savannah man.” Each of these beings has a dark side that befits an archetypal shadow. “baobab girl,” for example, carries

a luminous bone dagger
upon which she has carved
many names
exquisitely
. . .
and when she moves
little blood-beads fall
in scalding rows
from her prayer bag
and settle steaming
on the path behind her

Or “savannah man,”

his feet are sewn to hot
trails only by wrenching by brute
ripping in his walk might he tear
into the blood table

As a balance to the darkness of these fables, we are given 6 poems with the title “places of happiness” followed by a place name. These are poems of pure sensuous delight. Here is a section of “places of happiness (Candelaria)":

Luis Fernando’s silver eyes are from
volcano land they jump at me through cracks
in the fire in the
wine he would much like
that I should sit by him
the warm bones
of his Michelangelo hand
press into my cheek and he uses
the subjunctive

I love that subjunctive. What, I wonder, is the man hypothesizing?
Braided with these two threads is a third of personal lyrics, though this being Sebastian, they are lyrics with a surreal edge.

A comparison to the Fauvists can’t be maintained, but Sebastian’s variable, heavily enjambed line adds to the headlong movement of these poems to much the same effect as the Fauvist use of raw color. Visually, Sebastian seems to defy the sentence and even the sense unit. Or perhaps what she defies is the free verse convention of using the line break to enhance meaning. She doesn’t balk at breaking lines on an article or between a preposition and its object.

In contrast to their form on the page, when Sebastian reads these poems, as she does on the available CD or downloadable mp3 files, she very often ignores line breaks when they fall outside of sense units. Though she uses practically no punctuation, Sebastian honors syntax in her reading.

Sebastian’s poems are also colored by a strong underlying rhythm that lends itself to oral presentation. Although lineated like free verse, I hear a strong iambic base in the work, as in these opening lines of “places of happiness (Dougga)”:

do you remember the Roman remains
at Dougga do you remember
the olive hills of Tunisia all
bright air and luminous

A second contrast between the oral and the visual presentation of these poems lies in the quality of Sebastian’s voice. Though the content of the poems is raw and sometimes violent, her reading style is soft and understated.

Writing in the Shit Creek Review, R. Nemo Hill discusses the function of voice in society and in poetry. He says:

. . . the sound of the voice, its music, is a force that expands rather than contracts—that leads, not to the one, but to the all. And that communal music underlies language in a way which might seem entirely inexplicable were it not for this science . . . called poetry. [Ray Pospisil’s Voice and His Silence]

Voice and a community of voice are important to Nic Sebastian, too. Her blog Whale Sound [http://whalesound.wordpress.com/] is devoted to the reading of other people’s work and to publishing audio chapbooks, creating a space for the oral. A companion site, Voice Alpha [http://whalesound.wordpress.com/voice-alpha/] invites discussion of “the art and science of reading poetry aloud for an audience.” So Sebastian must be well aware of the synthesis of visual and oral presentations. Reading Forever Will End on Thursday on the page is quite different from hearing Sebastian read the poems.

In her foreword, on her blog Very Like a Whale, and on the webpage for Lordly Dish Nanopress, Sebastian has concentrated on explaining her strategy for publication. This strategy includes a simultaneous multimedia publication, giving people a broad choice of ways to receive this work, some of them free. Her approach has sparked a fascinating conversation with input from poets, editors, and publishers.

Less has been said about the impact of the multiple publication modes on the work itself. I read the book first, then listened to Sebastian read the poems as I read along. The difference in those two experiences caused me to reassess the work, to wonder why the lines are configured the way they are. The overlapping experiences of the two modes served to illustrate how very different it is to see a poem and to hear a poem. My eye saw the strangeness in the verse; her voice enhanced the musicality of the lines. It’s not the same poem on the page that it is in the ear.

Ellen Bryant Voigt has described lyric poetry as “movement that is centripetal and centrifugal rather than linear,” priorities that “subordinate the reader's appetite for story” [The Flexible Lyric (University of Georgia Press, 1999)]. In all modes, Sebastian’s poems wrench us out of the linear world into a place of dream and music. I won’t pretend that I always fully understand what she is doing but I must agree with her editor, Jill Alexander Nussbaum, when she says these poems “move and tremble . . . dance and shudder.” Sebastian’s strategy is provocative and evocative. One way and another, it’s a wild ride.

Sherry Chandler is the author of Weaving a New Eden, a collection of persona and formal poems in the voices of women who featured in the history of her home state, Kentucky. Look for her work in The Cortland Review, Calyx, andThe William and Mary Review. Chandler lived in Chicago for six years during the 70s during which time she is sorry to say she never once traveled over into Wisconsin. She is, however, a Facebook friend of former WI poet laureate Marilyn Taylor.

 

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