Nicole Rollender’s Louder Than Everything You Love (ELJ Publications, 2015) requires you to weave yourself through a mysterious landscape by following a trail of bones.
Bones are sprinkled throughout this collection about motherhood, history, and intuition. While I read the book organically, starting with the first poem and continuing until the end, I think an alternate approach would be to search out the bones and teeth in the poem and see where they take us.
We might begin in “To Be Inside a Body,” which offers up “a heart loud in a bone web.” And then we could consider “Scattering,” which begins, “I remember your clavicle pressed like a blade / under your skin, the moon // pooling in your cheeks’ hollows.” The poem continues, “I know the music your bone shards // make in the urn.”
Our bone-path might take us to “No One Asks,” which begins,
No one asks where you’ve come from,
what shimmering constellation of bones
and fear hold you together,
or what you’re trying to hold quiet
under your tongue.
Rollender’s bones are best construed as relics—the collection as reliquary. (In fact, the book frequently references God and the saints, and Christian tradition informs many poems.) Here is a favorite bone fragment of mine, from “Fable”:
Beyond your spread arms
is an untilled field planted with finger
bones. You can see the farmers who once
plowed this ground burying their brothers.
There are no priests left to deliver
babies, to set your waters on fire. Yet,
if you believe the moon can see the trees,
the man will spare you. If you tie braided
straw around the lowest branch’s white
wrist, you’ll make him fall
in love. His longing for things
to multiply will lullaby the ax until
the blade swings slow enough
The entire book is this way—the poetic imagine is intently focused, and the collection is lush with imagery. Writes Rollender in “Fasting,”
… I learned to count my sins
on metal rosary beads, the kneeler’s beam rising
through a cloth cover to bruise my knees. Even the sword
entering the Lord’s side rested on bone.
It’s a collection that takes a reader in so many directions, and all of them leave the mind reeling. Maybe the key question in the collection is found in the final poem, “Bone of My Bone”: “How do I measure the body’s gardens / from within its bone fences?” The body tries to contain these bones, but Rollender sets them loose and lines them up for counting.
An interview with Nicole Rollender …
What did you want to be when you grew up, and why?
Just the other day, my mother was saying to me, “Remember you wanted to be an archaeologist when you were a kid? That didn’t really work out, huh?" Yeah, I was that weirdo kid who’d tell my parents I wanted to go to cemeteries to dig up human bones or go into the attic of a colonial house to see the beams (the bones) of the house. My father took me to the New York City-based Museum of Natural History when I was five years old, and I was rapt among all the dinosaur bones, and also a human skeleton that had been fossilized in a bog. In Louder Than Everything You Love, bones recur and recur; bones, the past, the dead body, the remembered body, the fossilized body, so in a way the obsession that drove me as a child to seek out bones is still with me. See, Mom?
What is the very best word in this collection? Explain.
Remember. Much of this collection is about telling women’s stories: mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s, my deceased grandmother’s, women martyrs’, incorrupt saints’, and the list goes on. I remember my own stories, and I remember theirs through my own experience of first hearing/observing their stories. There are lots of layers of memory.
Describe your worst poetic habit.
It’s that I loathe drafting. I hate just writing down the bones (see what I did there?), even though I love all of Natalie Goldberg’s books, especially Writing Down the Bones. It seems when I do that, it doesn’t ever really become a poem. I have to be in a certain othered state of mind when I write, where I feel a certain level of being able to compose somewhere above basic brainstorm/jot-everything-down writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t collect words, phrases, lines in a worn notepad. I do that a lot. I just know poets who are good at just feeling comfortable writing everything down and then looking for the glitter between the lines. I want to be better like that, free myself more to do that.
It’s time someone put out an anthology of poems about ___. Explain your reasoning.
Bones, in their idiomatic sense, of course. Let’s count some of the bones out there: bag of bones; a bone to pick; a bone of contention; bad to the bone; bare bones; big boned; be bone dry; chilled to the bone; bone-crunching; funny bone; jump someone’s bones; I feel it in my bones; hard work breaks no bones. And it goes on and on. There have to be more than a hundred phrases that employ bone. We just need to write those poems.
It’s your poetic obituary! Finish it up, but not with your bio—finish it with an essential statement about your poetry. [Your name] was a poet of/who/with …
Nicole Rollender was a poet of the body (also her mother’s body, her grandmother’s, her daughter’s). The dead and the living looked out from her living body, and she mined her memories and theirs to tell ghostly/mystical/sad/sublime/grotesque/gorgeous stories.
Nicole Rollender’s work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, West Branch, Word Riot and others. Louder Than Everything You Love is her first full-length poetry collection. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine, and Princemere Journal.
Editor's note: This is the Jan. 10 installment of Poem366 (#10 out of 366 entries this year). If you are a poet or publisher who would like for me to consider a title, I am happy to accept physical copies (printouts are fine) of recent books. At this time I'm considering only full-length collections published by established presses (no self-published work). Feel free to mail a copy to me at Karen Craigo, 723 S. McCann Ave., Springfield MO 65804.