Humanity, Noelle Kocot
SurVision Books 2018 €6.99
Let’s get neo-metaphysical
Poets who revel in metaphysics are few and far between nowadays. We’re used to reading contemporary work that deals in accretion of concrete details and image. So coming across a poet who takes a directly antithetical approach can be challenging to the senses. The risk, surely, is that meaning becomes drowned by the weight of big, abstract nouns which can’t necessarily be visualised or grasped.
From the start, the American poet Noelle Kocot fearlessly treads old-fashioned ground:
A hint of spring
Slides over the sill, as young as time in
The gray February marshes
Your dishonesty is matched only by your
Love. We must choose our alliances carefully.
Or indeed, the gothic scraps of wind
Against the dawn, our words filling like
This is high-register writing, and difficult to sustain without occasionally tipping into vocabulary overload or anthropomorphism. ‘Tribute’, for example, one of several religious poems, opens with ‘tyrannical rocks’ and ends with ‘authoritarian waves’.
For me, Kocot is at her best where she mixes her abstract inclinations with specific happenings. ‘The St. Paddy’s Day Party’ depicts a lively occasion of ‘Covetousness in the kitchen’ and ‘adults / Running in syllables over the grass’ before a tender moment:
the 90 year old chemist shows me her
Cross, soldered onto her late husband’s cross.
The poem ends neatly with an urgent double imperative:
Us lie our heads in the sun. Let us stroll like
Odalisques in the depth and splash of history.
The poet can cast an intriguingly surreal spell, too, through compelling imagery, as in ‘Starting from Scratch’:
If you have grown
Accustomed to the twists of the wind,
If you have seen these papers flying
Overhead like giant moths, then I will
Show you the ineradicable bleeding of
The print, where we publish ourselves.
The sense of Kocot swimming against the tide is augmented by her traditional forms: sonnets, truncated sonnets or quatrains. In a time of what sometimes seems like increasing poetic homogeneity, it’s refreshing to see a poet ploughing her own, retro furrow.