Over the years, Nance Van Winckel's extraordinarily precise and energetic voice has built upon its strengths. Unpredictable, wry, always provocative, with a deeply satisfying balance of the spiritual and political, her poems make every gesture of language count. Although richly peopled with figures from this and parallel worlds—Simone Weil, Verlaine, Nabokov, Eurydice, "the new boys" working in the morgue, and others—NO STARLING moves beyond a reliance on the dramatic resonance of individual characters. Its vision is deeper, its focus both singular and communal: the self on its journey through the world and our responsibilities as a people for the precarious state of that world.
From a review BY Liz Robbins:
All of Nance Van Winckel's books of poetry demonstrate her unique blend of keen, precise wording and insight mixed with vibrant imaginative leaps (balancing artfully, as Stevens would say, imagination and reason). But if you only purchase one poetry collection this year, buy Van Winckel's latest, NO STARLING, which is a truly breathtaking book. The collection begins with the poem "Slate," where the speaker is hauling a dead body named "Nance" to be dumped in a quarry. This kind of premise--surreal, edgy, with slivers of humor--is characteristic Van Winckel, complete with her usual dead-on images, impeccable sonics, and profound revelations.
Where she shows her particular genius is how she can stretch a poem to absurdist limits, yet deftly reel it back to a warm, universal conclusion, as in "The Winter Cow." The poem begins with a cow standing in a frozen field with all four of its hooves sawed off (it's not explained why), and moves to a boy arriving to very tenderly milk her; the boy hums while doing so, as he fears he can't sing without weeping. Here's the final stanza:
The body is a great boat that knows the way
through iced blue distances. Gravity's small hands
tug at the hull. You get in
and you close your eyes, and you go.
There are so many exquisite moments like this one in the book, I couldn't possibly list them all. Clearly, Van Winckel has paid serious attention to structure, as themes reverberate from section to section. For instance, "water" and "shore" are both used metaphorically (though differently) in the closings of two of my favorites, "Mister" and "Verlaine in Prison." Death is another theme, found mainly in a fine cluster of poems in section one. No matter what the theme, though, Van Winckel's verbal dexterity and wisdom abound throughout.
Suffice it to say, I read this book from start to finish in one sitting because I couldn't wait to see--from page to page, line to line--how Van Winckel would dazzle me next. There seems to me not one wrong move or weak moment in the entire book. NO STARLING is simply stunning.
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