What is a body? A person? How do we form identities when we exist in bodies we didn’t choose? How do we live when our identities clash so painfully with what the world expects us to be? How do we live when things continually happen to us?
Both a reflection of body and of the self, and a record of its voluntary and involuntary changes, Nicole Wilson’s poetry collection Supper & Repair Kit explores the force of personal will on bodies, of culture and expectation, and the power of happenstance over human beings. Composed of four long poems that incorporate image and non-language marks into their structures, Wilson explores how to re-make the self through language and body.
God forbid belonging
she gash, an open
task on the seat
Time to get patched up and out of the stretcher, to put
those injuries to rest, stitches pulled
tremulous as threads from pigskin.
Wilson’s bodies begin the re-creation process by force of violence. Violence is the needed catalyst to swap body parts, to remake gender lines, to re-think what makes us happy. When agency is taken away, we are urged to act; to treat our bodies more than black boxes. The tragedy of our lives must do more than simply be recorded by our bodies; it must re-invent our bodies to fit the new circumstances, to fight tumultuously against the unfairness of the world. Made new, we must assert ourselves as terrible and reborn and individual.
blank and oblong in the middle
a future is balanced on top of the black box
obvious and daunting figure in my life:
guitars in my head all day
What complicates Wilson’s collection even further is the idea of the female body. Agency and femininity clash continually in the world; voice and representation and identity are all over shadowed by ridiculous cultural ideals.
“think palindrome,” says Wilson. And we do.
Who are we now that we’ve changed so much? Is a car with an entirely new engine still the same car?
we’re so much more than stick people
Because we’re mouthing we’re alive
Wilson even takes this credo of constant re-invention literally. Each line re-invents itself by the addition of the following line. Much like William Carlos Williams famous linear breaks from The Right of Way (“I saw a girl with one leg / over the rail of a balcony”), Wilson’s poetry masterfully sharpens and rearranges itself. Like a train closing in on its destination or a city becoming clearer in the distance, each line relies so heavily on the preceding that the meaning is constantly and dramatically warped. Meaning is made from pieces of memories, ideas and objects. Everything must be examined. This is not a book to be skimmed over.
mints from the jar
she memorized softly and tenderly
Jesus is calling
I wrote with ink, connecting dots in the Braille book
calling for you
Things happen to the self and yet in this unfairness, the self must persist. With this injustice comes a new body set in relief against the old order. Wilson’s poems suggest that given the circumstances, what else do you have except your own continual renewal? It is a ridiculous thought, like a palindrome, but there is no other choice.
Sometimes the gleam from the flame is so bright
we see a moment to forgive the gloom of ourselves.
Believe it or not, the message appeared to float
in the night fog where I traced my finger.
What a crack up!
Supper & Repair Kit is a book that speaks quietly yet has the power to shake your bones. The language is surprising and unique. Wilson made me think about each page, line, and word, and what they meant in the context of each other. While poetry is fundamentally this, how language can operate together, this work takes the arbitrary surreal we so often see in poetry out of the equation. You must puzzle over the pieces of these poems, not because the poet is trying to represent some picturesque ideal, but because bodies and lives happen in half remembered pieces, and we all too must unceasingly reshape ourselves.
Supper & Repair Kit, by Nicole Wilson. The Lettered Streets Press. 60 pages. $12.95, paper.
m. forajter is a recent MFA Poetry graduate from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared in The Columbia Poetry Review, Black Tongue Review, and Radioactive Moat.