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{Van Winckel's poems} sure-handedly carry out a thoughtful examination of mortality, of the pioneering spirit, of injustices caused by nature and by humanity, and of a sense of having to live this life in our own laughably frail and painfully desiring bodies—all what she terms in the last poem in the book "the soul's central issues."


Award-winning poet Nance Van Winckel presents NO STARLING, a brief yet evocative selection of poems utilizing a variety of rhythms and soundscapes. Subtly community-building in its reminders of human responsibilities for each other and the world at large, No Starling touches upon spiritual and political issues alike, singing aloud in a crystal clear voice that deserves to be heard.

"Leastways": The ship had a bar, listing. A porthole / awash. Loyal drinkers swearing they'd seen / the giant squid. Sheer genius, they said, / to survive the millennia, the depths. // I blinked into that window at only / my face... all splash and dissolve. // Days under the white sails, over / cruel swells. Days taken / like aspirin. Hard little fact / of the body: if it goes down, / I go. And the bar raised. The bar / tilted. A tentacles here-on portends / a hereafter. I hang on. Rain clouds / pretend to take the lead.

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.