Soul in Space, by Noelle Kocot


Soul in Space, Noelle Kocot’s sixth full-length collection of poetry, calls us to the world and the world to us. At the end of the acknowledgements, Kocot thanks “the late Randall Jarrell—it is his gorgeous poem “Seele im Raum” that inspired the title for this book: as translated, Seele im Raum means Soul in Space.” In that poem, Jarrell writes, “It was as if I could not know I saw it / Because I had never once in all my life /Not seen it.” Kocot helps us see “it,” an “it” that seems to encompass Jarrell’s “it.” Listening to “[t]he roar of enigma, the // [s]pecial volume on the other side of things,” she gives the mystery presence and holds it in focus for a moment before it blurs and recedes; in these moments, we, too, are present, existing in a kind of “cyclic revealingness.” In Soul in Space, yearning becomes a creative act: the poems yearn in and through and because of words, making manifest that for which they yearn, but already implicit in the yearning is loss.

Kocot begins the collection with a section of imagistic poems, most of which consist of short lines. The first poem ends with the speaker addressing her body: “O my body, Sit here with me / While I just talk.” This talk consists of chrysanthemums, the color orange, the “mellow streets” of New Jersey, and other things that become “abodes” for the speaker. Then, there’s this three-line poem, which rivals the best of the Imagists’ work:


Rising shoots of tombstones:
Chiseled buds reaching
Toward a flesh-toned moon.

In “Joy Addict,” the speaker refuses transcendence, which “[s]eems ugly. Puerile, like wishing // [o]n a traffic light.” She concludes: “The streets are clean and // Shiny without me, and the blood / Flows just like blood.” Yet, in the next poem, the speaker implores someone to “[j]ump like a lamb into the void. Teach me all that is unsaid.” Instead of rending the speaker, these apparently contradictory impulses—to be at home in the blood and to leap into the void—converge as the collection progresses, becoming a single desire, which seems to be confirmation that one is really living. In “Dealing with the Incandescent,” the speaker says, “I am just barely a pattern,” but even in this slight state of being, she “cannot shake” the feeling “of being saved,” and like the “sole survivor of yesterday’s wreck,” she “has more to say.” In the saying, she actuates her being. She doesn’t believe “[t]hat miracles happen without this / [h]air and these sleeves.”

The untitled poems in the second section of Soul in Space describe an “it” that has no antecedent, unless it is the soul, but a few pages into the section, Kocot writes, “Its soul, however, rarely talked to anyone.” We learn that it “screamed” the speaker “into this world,” and she “wish[es] she had a sample of its handwriting / [s]o that [she] would be less lonely.” Merging the physical and the spiritual, Kocot writes, “The world is its convent.” “It liked reality almost as much as it liked the imagination,” the speaker says, stating what could be taken as part Kocot’s aesthetic values. The section ends:

A feast was held in its honor.

It ate and drank, but did not sing

For its sadness, which it confessed

To its brothers and sisters.

Yet it lives and moves and has its being.

The third section, which contains a series of sonnets, is my favorite in the collection. I’m normally not crazy about formal poetry, but Kocot is so good at it, and the poems are so rich that I was awed. The poems possess an internal logic that makes sense of “the many-limbed hunk of / Earth” that “spins and spins, knocks us around.” They are “dream[s] that fade into reality.” In “Ontology Kissed,” the speaker declares:

I have not wasted my life. The subtle
Interference, filled with risk and bad
Feelings, was made to sail across.
It is a weird admixture, the pretense

Readers will recognize that the first line echoes and contradicts the last line of James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.” Kocot’s line breaks are magnificent, creating an ambiguity that allows meaning to root rhizomatically. Before describing “interference,” “subtle” describes “life.” Later in the poem, Kocot writes, “My being now healed? The world is / [a]ngular.” “Being” and “the world” almost conjoin in the line. “Bonehouse,” the last poem in the section, ends:

Where I’m going from here? The light
Is now clasped to keep things true.
The lucid leaves circle about a hole.

In the final section of Soul in Space, the poems become polyphonic. After asking whether someone can be addicted to God, the speaker of “Anniversary” says, “Land-lover, you kill me. Recognize, /[d]on’t hate.” Then, we see egrets waiting in the “Abecedarian grass.” “You Are a Vessel in This Poem. I Am a Vessel, Too,” contains both the lines, “Pride: is it / [t]he last leaf on a tree in winter, / [o]r the one who takes a picture / [o]f it?” and this sentence: “We conversated.” Although they traverse several levels of discourse, the themes that appear in the previous sections of the book remain constant. In “Corazón,” the speaker knows “the events before our eyes”:

Are not as real as the mirror image
Of the light that anchors us
Both to this light-filled room.

And in “Trees,” which resonates with “Joy Addict,” the speaker says, “When we see a spot of blood, / [t]here is our answer, and all things we strive for.” The last lines of the book read:

Visions, and details
Of the smallest things crowd my head,
And this life, this refuge, is
The only one who calls me anymore.

Kocot’s ability to see details in visions is one of the many strengths of Soul in Space. Despite the rather abstract title of the book, Kocot manages to write about spiritual and philosophical matters in concrete terms, taking refuge in life. Like the poets of whom she writes in “Poets are Feral Beasts,” she has “uniqueness, nerve.”

Soul in Space, by Noelle Kocot. Seattle, Washington: Wave Books. 144 pages. $18.00, paper.

Jordan Sanderson earned a PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2007. His poems have appeared in several journals, including CaketrainDouble RoomThe FiddlebackPhantom Limb, and Spectrum, and his reviews and criticism have appeared in The Hollins CriticRain Taxi, and other journals. He currently lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where he teaches English.

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