my review of Dark And Like A Web

Dark And Like A Web by Nic Sebastian

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Last April, as I wrote a set of poems for NaPoWriMo, I also read a set of poems by Nic Sebastian. She called them “prayers and charms” and I eagerly clicked over to the website she’d set up for them each day. I didn’t want to miss any. My life was growing more hectic and difficult as the year progressed; her poems calmed me down. They helped me think about the deep spaces of the mind and heart and soul and how my internal landscape informs my dreams and wishes. Back in April 2011 I had no idea how much more insane my year was going to become.

Nic published this collection of NaPo poems later in the year, calling it “Dark And Like A Web” after a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke. She set up a website that offered online access to the poems as well as recordings of her beautiful voice speaking them with depth and emotion. I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew how these poems would help me get through my year. Every time some disaster occurred (death, earthquake, hurricaine, blizzard) I invariably picked up her chapbook and read one of the poems. They aren’t all peaceful.

In “there are howling wolves” the narrator explains how “their voices tesselate” the night.” How “we vibrate.” It isn’t a comfortable sensation. As the short poem progresses, the reader stumbles over “shattered constellations” and “pieces / of this night.” There is no comfort to this poem, except that very discomfort creates a sort of truth that comforted me. At the very end of the poem, the speaker talks of how “we are not coming” and “never were.” People don’t always figure it out. After an unexpected death in my family this past summer, I felt comforted by this truth. The poem is completely surreal, but the core of it is emotionally real.

Other poems in the chapbook resonate similarly. In August I went on vacation with my family to Washington, DC. While we stood on the National Mall, an earthquake confused our day. People wandered everywhere while random sirens pierced the streets. Two days later we were in Ocean City, Maryland, trying to finish our vacation on the beach. Hurricaine Irene dismantled those plans and we were evacuated along with thousands of others. Cars packed the roads and I read Nic’s poem “containing prayer beads and Bangkok.”

This poem is set in Bangkok and Seattle but really the cities don’t matter. It’s the internal landscape of the poem that accompanied me on my journey. I wanted what the speaker of the poem wanted: peace. Love. But, “he tells me to find / my own mantra.” The poem speaks a list of exotic places and fills them with gorgeous imagery: “black hair / kicking in the wind” and “gold-shot pain / of sunset.” The beauty is always accompanied with an active rushing away from peace. The end of the poem renders the speaker mute. That is what disaster does to a person. Once again, I was strangely comforted. This chapbook was the friend who lived across the country from me. The friend I couldn’t talk to very often. The friend who nevertheless understood exactly what I had been feeling in the midst of destruction.

Last year I promised Nic a review of this chapbook. I could go on about the imagery of the poems, their beautiful lines and surreal verbs. How they spoke to me even when I thought I couldn’t go on because the earth was covered with snow and a lack of water. Or how the characters in the poems let me dream about places I wanted to go: mountains and rivers and temples. Ultimately, I can’t really review this collection of poems, can’t say: “oh, I give it three stars or five or seven.” Because this particular chapbook of poems carried me like a boat over the drama of my emotions this past year. I can’t help but love them. As the opening poem of the book states: “I think you are / a small flame embedded / in silence.” Thank you Nic, for giving voice to that flame and letting it light my way for those difficult months. Thank you for that gift.

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