cover image Civilization Makes Me Lonely

Civilization Makes Me Lonely

Jennifer Nelson. Ahsahta, $18 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-934103-75-3

“Let us counter the equations,” proposes poet and art historian Nelson in her playful, defiant follow-up to Aim at the Centaur Stealing Your Wife. Wending through academic institutions and their politics, social interactions, “The Protest Market,” and recesses—both historical and interior—carved out by “the life lived hermeneutically,” Nelson confronts the violence of empire, which comes in myriad insidious forms, particularly for a woman of color in America. Nelson knows that the stakes are epistemological—“scholars agree, Objectivity/ arises as reflex/ when Europeans take over/ the world or kill trying”—and jest and imagination are essential elements of her poems’ subversive tactics. Dealing in the quicksilver changes and referential modes that characterize the contemporary, Nelson mines the improbable proximities that abound in lives lived digitally, but she does so with attention to the active roles that constructed pasts take on in this ever-renewing present. She writes, in reference to “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” that “the condemned cannot experience time,” and Nelson’s collection mimics the strangeness, suffering, and exuberance of Bosch’s famous triptych. If “a good art historian/ puppets a skeleton/ in front of the living/ while being a skeleton/ a little while,” as a poet Nelson leads that skeleton in an entirely new dance. (Apr.)