Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Book Title: Winter Light
Poems by Alfred Nicol
Recipient of the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award
Publisher: UEP The University of Evansville Press
1800 Lincoln Avenue
Evansville, IN 47722

The title of Alfred Nicol’s poetry book "Winter Light" at first evoked in me the illusory gray of the long New England winters. This feeling was strengthened for me by the beautiful cover by Dozier Bell portraying a city, probably in Maine, covered by a grayish sky. This photo reminds me too of the winters in Russia in Chagal’s paintings. However, while reading throug his poems, Alfred Nicol’s writing gave me a different dimension of the light in winter. They are not always gray. The emerging crisp lights are already hinted at by the clear sun of the cover art which the author had chosen and is called Conflict Series no. 68. Yes, as in the cover, in Nicol’s poems are conflictive shades of lights and shadows.,

from the nostalgia of the loss objectified in the first five lines of the poem on page 4:


You’d think statistics would console the heart
Where love is bound to fail (such is the norm),
It’s all in line with customary form
That what we built together falls apart;
We’ll look to science, now we’ve lost the art.
to the incommensurable desire for hope and other human feelings such as regret and doubt when Nicol’s non-traditional sonnet’s next lines say:
As there is no device to measure hope
For clarity we’ll simply rule it out;
Regret as well, and other such errata.
Results require a limiting of scope.
Remembered kindness, tears, the touch of doubt ---
What is all that but nonessential data?

to the intriguing questions raised by other people’s perception of the man when the poet uses a Shakespearean’s sonnet on p. 6:

What strange arithmetic is practiced here!
Of one body, one soul, I am the sum,
One man—and yet, as such must not appear;
Because if ten look on, then I become
Ten figures to shape an equation.
The variable is the sculptor’s eye,
Else I’d remain a single incarnation,
These several other selves not multiply.

Although rhymed and formal poetry does not usually entice me unless I read the greatest immortal poets such as Shakespeare and Jorge Luis Borges, I have to admit that the rhyme of Nicol’s poems is skillful and original. He is an excellent poet who knows the craft of formal poetry. In regard to the rhyme in the poem Rationale: errata and data are very interesting rhymes but I find those words somehow forced in relation to the rest of this poem.

One of the most interesting aspects in the poetry of Alfred Nicol’s is not only its content but its analysis of the depth of daily life in its simple structure. Further, while reading Nicol’s book, I felt that rhyme and meter appear effortlessly written because of the cadence of his verses; expressed with clarity and naturalness. However, the reality is that good rhyme and forms are neither easily found nor written. The choice of this book as the recipient of the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award is well deserved.

Original rhyme in the poem "Faint Prospect" (sonnet form, p.36) appears in:

what if and tiff // painted us so and years, we know // again and pain. I liked the use of the words: hesitation and separation // verse and suppressed // rest and best. In the poem Potatoes (p.38) I felt enchanted by the rhyme in the first stanza: pommes de terre and like the air and No reflection’s there; in the second stanza: reverie periphery could never be, and in the third stanza: root mute fruit // plot rot; in the fourth stanza: puttering fluttering guttering // one sun done // now plough.

I recommend reading the poem "Faint Prospect" to learn about rhyme, form and depth of meaning. Langston Hughes wrote: "What happens to a dream deferred?" Maybe the dream deferred of many poets is how to learn to write excellent formal poetry.

"Winter Light" is the book to read to learn through good examples. For instance, in the poem Maudlin Clay (7 quatrains, p.48) I love the following rhymes:

introduced loosed // true you // is not spot // tree me // time I’m // seed read // ache make. These are simply some of many other examples.

The Epigrams (couplets, p.54) are delightfully dark and very well written as in:

If I’d wanted a romance, I should have read one.
The only good emotion is a dead one.
Machismo in politics makes perfect sense.
A man well-endowed will not straddle the fence.
A few verses of mine are acclaimed a success.
The illiterate like recitation, I guess.

I would like to mention Nicol’s final quatrain of five in his last poem Sunday (p.66):

Something’s discovered in a day
Whose means are matched to gentle ends.
From a point of stillness far away,
A parable of light descends.

Because each poem in Nicol’s book made me feel that life’s moments and winter lights are parallel and are also a counterpoint to each other a parable of light descending as the poet says.
The events of our path for this earth are reflected in the poems in Winter Lights where even in a dark day, literally and metaphorically, the reflection might be clear and transparent while a clear day can be muddled by shadows of regrets and/or loss of love. The words of Nicol’s poems transmit all of this with wisdom and genuine grace. His formal techniques are well-honed. Whether you like formal poetry or not, I strongly recommend you read this book.

Beatriz Alba Del Rio/Ibbetson Update


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