cover image Ordinary Beast: Poems

Ordinary Beast: Poems

Nicole Sealey. Ecco, $24.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-06-268880-4

Sealey’s elegant and elemental debut acts as a balm for and protectant against the hazards of modernity. Though her poems are very much in and of the material world, Sealey’s gifts of attention and distillation resist any tendency toward superficial excess and distraction. Brief poems leave no room for flourishes, moving instead with lithe musicality toward the universal. She locates the human condition succinctly—“We fit somewhere between god/ and mineral”—and attends to the vast range of experiences contained therein. One of the collection’s longer poems, “Cento for the Night I Said, ‘I Love You,’ ” is a gorgeous meditation on human connection; the cento, a form composed solely of quotations, nods to the ways in which expressions of love are at once culturally inherited and unmistakably one’s own. The collection also contains playful riffs on pop culture, including sonnets in voices from the film Paris is Burning and a sestinalike poem featuring the characters from Clue (which is then subsequently recast in a spare, sober erasure). But there are also images of racism and violence—and in one of the book’s many withering-yet-beautiful turns, Sealey wagers, “Every thing aspires to one/ degradation or another. I want/ to make something/ holy, then walk away.” And yet, instead of walking away, Sealey engages with the world patiently and courageously. (Sept.)