Winter: Effulgences and Devotions, by Sarah Vap. Noemi Press, Inc., 2019.
Part memoir. Part elegy for her father, for childhood, for the planet. Part literary critique (Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Snow Man.” Part critique of humanity, or our human-ness (again, “The Snow Man”). Part fragment. Part commentary. Part running conversation with her children.
The book is a curation of pieces written while trying, over years, to write a poem about winter. In this way, the book is a museum. The title of Donald Hall’s book, The Museum of Clear Ideas, comes to mind. Here, though is a museum of chaos and investigation and yes, clear ideas, and yes, those effulgences, those tendernesses, an ongoing devotion.
In the book, Vap sets up systems and smashes them. For example, Most of the poems are titled Winter, except when the pattern breaks by expanding (“Winter, my mind”; “Winter, the beginning”) or just breaks (“Sovereign Good”; “Christmas Eve, Miscarriage”).
In the book, every page is bordered, top and bottom, in tiny type, by the sentence “Drones are probably killing someone right now” with no end stop, so that the killing is as relentless as the reminder of it.
Vap sets aside chronology, the book formed on a different arc, or a gyroscope. In “Winter, a few years later,” she asks:
“What happens if I smear a single question across time—who is innocent, and for how long. What makes us.
What of ours is our own.
Is it still possible—in this world—to have a soul.
What if I extend my question across hears, and across thousands of attempts to write a poem.”
So much of the book takes place in quiet, in early morning moments, rain or snow outside the window. A moment that is, almost always, swiftly interrupted, the interruption embodied by the intermittent dangling “, I.”
Or when she says:
“Sometimes I long to make a full, complete sentence beautifully crafted because I believe it would indicate something about how my mind.”
So much happens in this book that it is overwhelming. So much happens again and again.
In this book, Vap will not let us forget that “the pinging from the naval and industrial sonar surrounding this peninsula is exploding not just the brains of whales and other sea creatures—it is also directly entering and exploding the brains of our family-animal, I.”
I love this book because embraces, fiercely, the family-animal and because that animal is moving and messy and delightful and sometimes fevered, sometimes very hard.
I love this book because it juxtaposes, with clear thinking, the family-animal with the world at large—all the complexes, all the children at risk.
It is at once intimate and vast.