The New Census: Nick Lantz on Nicky Beer

This week we continue our feature of The New Census: an Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, a lovely new book edited by Lauren Shapiro & Kevin A. Gonzalez, and published by Rescue Press. You can purchase the anthology here. Today, New Census contributor Nick Lantz introduces a poem from the anthology written by Nicky Beer.

Phrases about The New Census from an Online Chat (Continued):
…how will The New Census be remembered…the anthology most like it might be Legitimate Dangers…The New Census is farther along the continuum…the easiest and least-helpful way to review an anthology…

Every Poem Is A Dead Uncle
                —after Nicky Beer’s “Avuncularity”

I’m drawn to poetic ghosts, images discernible only in the periphery, residues that index what’s missing: the flutter of a shadow, imprint of teeth in an apple, reflections in storefront glass, indentations left in old furniture, scents that linger after a figure has long since turned a corner. I sometimes tell my students that they will write better poems if they stop trying to describe, and instead try to evoke. How can one ever hope to describe a person, a feeling? One must tease the reader’s imagination. One must drop morsels to lure it from its cave.

Nicky Beer’s “Avuncularity” begins by claiming that “Every child ought to have a dead uncle”—not present, but evoked by his artifacts, necessarily incomplete, “a handful of epochal snapshots/where the face is always blurred.” The uncle is drawn with enough clarity that he is real, but he contains deliberate gaps, lapses, lacunae: he is a vessel into which imagination can pour itself. In Beer’s wonderful poem, it is the imagination of blame: the poem invites the reader to lay her quirks and fractures and failings at the uncle’s feet. The uncle is the fetish filled with her dark thoughts and then buried in the woods by the edge of a field. Accounted for, expunged.

But the ghost uncle is also the poem itself—every good poem, in fact—a vacuum that draws in our imagination. Given a little of the right detail, the mind springs to life, sketches in the rest. Did Beer say the uncle had a beard? That he wore a plaid shirt? No, no, but there he is—beard, plaid shirt, halo of sweet pipe smoke. I can hear the laugh she never mentioned.

When the potter throws a vase, he builds a hollow inside of it. The closet the frightened child stares into at night is real, but vacant. To say that a poem contains an emptiness is not to disparage it but to praise it. That emptiness is filled with a ghost, the presence that we believe into it.

You can read the poem here and listen to Nicky Beer reading it here.


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