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Circe by Nicelle Davis

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circeReview by Jennifer Jean

– I love dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of bitter to sweet the better for me. No surprise then that I found myself gnashing on Nicelle Davis’ bitter-intensive poetry in Circe, her recent collection out by Lowbrow Press. When reading these impressionistic lyrics I had no need for the original Homeric tale that serves as primary source for Davis’ mythos. The charms of this book—the strength of Circe’s voice, her sharp world, and her fatal whirlpool emotions—hold fast: “Sorrow/ can be delicious” says Circe,

“…the sea is full

of ceaseless want needing to be paid
a physical lesson. Hunger will soon
arrive at your door, again asking

to be punished with wings and song.”

Much of the book is comprised of this sort of revisionist persona poem—additionally we hear from Circe’s alternate selves in the fem-monster Sirens; as well as from, and of, the adventurer Odysseus and his wife Penelope:

“she holds their son like a knife over
sliced figs—licks salt from the blade—
mumbles over its sharp edge, Late night? Yes,
he replies. The exchange ends with blue-
berries added to a dinner salad. Lemon juice
squeezed from the rind—the sun weeps from

her fingertips onto his plate of fresh greens.”

The book’s landscapes are often somewhat modern—for instance, we see husband and wife discuss fixing up their home as a way to avoid discussing Odysseus’ infidelity with Circe: “Still there is a cupboard to fix, an exterminator/ to call. Can’t risk depreciation. Not in this market.”

This love triangle afrermath narrative was a bit difficult to tease out; though, in her defense, Circe admits: “Nothing can be recalled/ in sequence.” Recall in this line can mean memory, of course, but also a will to “take back.” To regret: the affair, the addictive longing, and her subsequent isolation from the community. “Will we heal,” she asks at one point; “I can only stitch flesh” a doctor responds—no one has hope enough to heal her gutted spirit or psyche.

We see this hopelessness in the cyclicality of the Epilogue, which reads: “Page one. Again.” We see it as well in the Siren narratives—these “sisters” live inside Circe: there’s Sad Siren, Angry Siren, and Little Siren. And they’re violet, haphazard betrayers of men and women alike. The Littlest Siren says of her sisters, between bites of shipwrecked men, “if I drink them I will grow feet/ and lose my wings—then boys/ will like me. But to do this I must/ care nothing for sisters…”

Many characters and materials are interchangeable or merged: pigs and men, bird and fish, son and lover. This latter dichotomy gave me my only quibble with the book—I didn’t understand how or why Circe saw Odysseus as both son and lover. Is she “creating” him, shaping his personality, with her woe and therefore he is a “son?” Maybe she’s creating only an image of a man in her head and acknowledging that it may not be the “real” Odysseus, just one colored by her pain? I’m not sure enough of my suppositions to be satisfied with the inclusion of this duality.

Though, in regards to my supposition, there is this: Circe says that words, here posited as love letters and spells (themselves interchangeable) “make me. Remake me.” This creates a meta-arc early on in the book. As readers we are then constantly aware of the fem-monster Circe as a thing revised (as text taken from one book, scrambled, then deposited in another book). Circe the person is also a made-thing—made by the words (for instance “whore” and “Zoophile”) and by the hurtful actions of others; these isolating elements could be what give her that overwhelming Sirenic/schizoid dilemma: “To fight the quiet I talk to my selves.”

But then Circe lies to herself: “Home is the lie that never stops telling stories.” Still—lies are like revision, and revision can signify hope for perfection of a kind; it can signify an opportunity for second chances… Then, is it possible I’m wrong about her absolute hopelessness? Perhaps. Circe asserts: “I am a sad story./ I’m going to rewrite it.”

Circe by Nicelle Davis
Lowbrow Press 2011
ISBN: 978-0982955345
Pages: 104

 


Jennifer Jean is the author of three poetry collections: The Archivist, Fishwife, and In the War. She’s released a collaborative CD, Fishwife Tales, which is comprised of art songs, rock ballads, and accompanied recitations. Her writing has been published in numerous journals, including: Caketrain, Tidal Basin Review, Poets/Artists, The Mom Egg Journal, North Dakota Quaerterly, Denver Quarterly, Santa Clara Review, Southern California Review, and more. She’s a feature writer for the arts and lifestyle magazine Art Throb, an active member of the committee producing the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and she teaches writing and literature at Salem State University and UMASS Boston. For more information on Jennifer, visit: http://www.fishwifetales.com/
Book Review by Jennifer Jean
I love dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of bitter to sweet the better for me. No surprise then that I found myself gnashing on Nicelle Davis’ bitter-intensive poetry in Circe, her recent collection out by Lowbrow Press. When reading these impressionistic lyrics I had no need for the original Homeric tale that serves as primary source for Davis’ mythos. The charms of this book—the strength of Circe’s voice, her sharp world, and her fatal whirlpool emotions—hold fast: “Sorrow/ can be delicious” says Circe,

“…the sea is full

of ceaseless want needing to be paid
a physical lesson. Hunger will soon
arrive at your door, again asking

to be punished with wings and song.”

Much of the book is comprised of this sort of revisionist persona poem—additionally we hear from Circe’s alternate selves in the fem-monster Sirens; as well as from, and of, the adventurer Odysseus and his wife Penelope:

“she holds their son like a knife over
sliced figs—licks salt from the blade—
mumbles over its sharp edge, Late night? Yes,
he replies. The exchange ends with blue-
berries added to a dinner salad. Lemon juice
squeezed from the rind—the sun weeps from

her fingertips onto his plate of fresh greens.”

The book’s landscapes are often somewhat modern—for instance, we see husband and wife discuss fixing up their home as a way to avoid discussing Odysseus’ infidelity with Circe: “Still there is a cupboard to fix, an exterminator/ to call. Can’t risk depreciation. Not in this market.”

This love triangle afrermath narrative was a bit difficult to tease out; though, in her defense, Circe admits: “Nothing can be recalled/ in sequence.” Recall in this line can mean memory, of course, but also a will to “take back.” To regret: the affair, the addictive longing, and her subsequent isolation from the community. “Will we heal,” she asks at one point; “I can only stitch flesh” a doctor responds—no one has hope enough to heal her gutted spirit or psyche.

We see this hopelessness in the cyclicality of the Epilogue, which reads: “Page one. Again.” We see it as well in the Siren narratives—these “sisters” live inside Circe: there’s Sad Siren, Angry Siren, and Little Siren. And they’re violet, haphazard betrayers of men and women alike. The Littlest Siren says of her sisters, between bites of shipwrecked men, “if I drink them I will grow feet/ and lose my wings—then boys/ will like me. But to do this I must/ care nothing for sisters…”

Many characters and materials are interchangeable or merged: pigs and men, bird and fish, son and lover. This latter dichotomy gave me my only quibble with the book—I didn’t understand how or why Circe saw Odysseus as both son and lover. Is she “creating” him, shaping his personality, with her woe and therefore he is a “son?” Maybe she’s creating only an image of a man in her head and acknowledging that it may not be the “real” Odysseus, just one colored by her pain? I’m not sure enough of my suppositions to be satisfied with the inclusion of this duality.

Though, in regards to my supposition, there is this: Circe says that words, here posited as love letters and spells (themselves interchangeable) “make me. Remake me.” This creates a meta-arc early on in the book. As readers we are then constantly aware of the fem-monster Circe as a thing revised (as text taken from one book, scrambled, then deposited in another book). Circe the person is also a made-thing—made by the words (for instance “whore” and “Zoophile”) and by the hurtful actions of others; these isolating elements could be what give her that overwhelming Sirenic/schizoid dilemma: “To fight the quiet I talk to my selves.”

But then Circe lies to herself: “Home is the lie that never stops telling stories.” Still—lies are like revision, and revision can signify hope for perfection of a kind; it can signify an opportunity for second chances… Then, is it possible I’m wrong about her absolute hopelessness? Perhaps. Circe asserts: “I am a sad story./ I’m going to rewrite it.”

Jennifer Jean is the author of three poetry collections: The Archivist, Fishwife, and In the War. She’s released a collaborative CD, Fishwife Tales, which is comprised of art songs, rock ballads, and accompanied recitations. Her writing has been published in numerous journals, including: Caketrain, Tidal Basin Review, Poets/Artists, The Mom Egg Journal, North Dakota Quaerterly, Denver Quarterly, Santa Clara Review, Southern California Review, and more. She’s a feature writer for the arts and lifestyle magazine Art Throb, an active member of the committee producing the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and she teaches writing and literature at Salem State University and UMASS

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