Blue Patina by Nancy Takacs
(Blue Begonia Press, 2015)
reviewed by Kate Kingston
The poems in Blue Patina weave through varied subject matter, some relating to childhood, others to wilderness, and still others to the concept of worry. Each of the four sections has its unique theme, but the unifying threads are in Nancy Takacs’ attention to voice and imagery, her relationship to the natural world, and her intuitive perception.
In the opening section, “The Voices,” Takacs journeys back through her childhood in the cityscape of Bayonne, NJ. Her opening poem of the same title begins with a lyrical description of voice which serves as a springboard for the poems that follow:
My bee and blossom voice
hums in my wrist each morning, flies out
over the field, bumbles through dust
in the April wind, flies low to the apple trees
to lose myself whole in each center.
Takacs immediately focuses on the act of writing, the physical activity of the wrist, the ability to go beyond the self, drawing on nature and its images, to become lost in the centering—an intuition that gyrates with wisdom. This poem serves as an introduction to the collection as a whole. The determination and grit that drives these poems is expressed further in the poem:
The bicycle voice
is a wise voice, tells me
to keep moving, get back on
and turn my thin beige tires
This first section reaches back to a time of I Love Lucy, garter belts, and childhood secrets, defined by Takacs in her poem “Hurt” as a time when “writing was penmanship, / and we were in love with letters / as if they were tears, and we were / the ones who had cried them.” These poems lend a renewed perspective to growing up—Sunday Mass followed by donuts from the deli, a stolen kiss, and intimate relationships that form family—the brother’s distance, the father and his buddies at Campbell’s Tavern, and the mother’s voice of prayers and songs. From the poem, “Sunday, My Brother,” we hear an example of Takacs’ haunting voice:
No one knew back then
what you and I know now:
personality disorders, AA.
No one thought anyone
was crazy or needy.
We just expected our neighbor
to lay all night smashed,
bloody, in the alleyway.
Even our own father
coming home from the tavern,
speaking nonsense, might
have a gash or two.
Her subject matter is unflinching and grasps the core of what it is to be human, to transcend our surroundings and make sense of the world we inhabit.
The poems in the section “Utah Map” use nature as a catalyst for rediscovery, opening into a life much different than her childhood in New Jersey. From her experience as a Wilderness Studies Guide, landscapes surface—mountains, deserts, rivers, and slick rock. Seamless language appears to grow effortlessly from the sandy soil, rugged canyons, and juniper-laden ridges where “the exotic is nature.” Takacs luxuriates in images of flora, fauna, and weather that compose wilderness and shares this adventure of spirit in her “jeep / clawing its way over slick rock.” She writes of avalanches and quicksand, arches and petroglyphs, flash floods and crabapples in her desert yard. Her sensitivity to inner landscape likewise flourishes as in the poem “Escalante” where she invites the reader to discover “ghost-shaped / petroglyphs in the dark blue patina.”
Takacs is also a water color artist, and her intimate knowledge of hues, tones and textures is evident in her images of desert landscape infused with light as in the poem “Balance Rock, October”:
We never tell where we jeep for lunch
between nearby canyon walls whose dark
patina sheens to indigo, sapphire, a swarm of blues;
petroglyphs float under alcoves
near Swasey’s Leap; silent orange vistas
accordion at The Wedge.
As if her notebook were a canvas, she sketches images through idiolect and responds to other artists’ paintings as well, infusing the page with a rich verbal palette. Her ekphrastic response to a painting by David Dornan in the poem “‘Process’ at the Balance Rock Café” highlights her ability to process color and texture through language:
Now I know I need the sudden turquoise car
inside the lemon-yellow house,
lavender anemones over corrugated
ribs, the tin ribs, the bare ribs,
a whiteness more like a rose-cream,
orange a true orange into fluorescent-orange into red,
lipped over undercoats of lime, violet, battleship;
In the section entitled “The Worrier,” her voice takes on the previously promised maturity of wisdom from the “bicycle voice.” Each poem in this section is structured as a dialogue between two inner voices that create a philosophical template based on our human capacity for worry. The question/answer format revolves around fear, relationships, and nature’s fragility. The two voices remain true to themselves, never bordering on the sentimental, never hesitating, but rather speaking with a clarity based on experience. The juxtapositions parallel the turmoil of mid-life, but they also resonate with an inner intuition that dictates the wildly juxtaposed answers as in the “Worrier” poem subtitled “the body.”
What are the crimes of the lake?
Not giving up the dead.
And what does the lake heal?
Elbows of crawdads,
edges of washed glass,
the plan of silver.
What does that silver do?
It allows the body
The litany here is not only dependent on the words but also on white space. Concrete and abstract meld to create a resonance rooted in the sparse toughness of language. Her word choice, “Not giving up the dead,” ignites the concept of fear and diffuses later in the “plan of silver” that “allows the body / to surface,” leaving an intuitive truth growing like wisdom in the rib cage. Through sparse language, white space, and dialogue, Takacs scaffolds an emotional and intellectual core in each of these “Worrier” poems.
Thematically, childhood poems, wilderness poems, and “Worrier” poems lead us to the fourth section, “Still,” with its attention to the all-encompassing fragility of nature reflected in the fragility of the self. Takacs’ images and their appeal to the senses keep us grounded while her intuitive grasp of what is beyond the mundane culminates in this last section. Here we discover meditative, quiet poems that subtly resonate back through the manuscript. The poems in this final section are embedded in a sense of reflection that acknowledges tension as portrayed in the poem “Yoga Class”:
I like it when the moments
fall gently into one another,
end up on some island
with no human footprints
and many bear.
Takacs’ poems leap from unexpected places, yet they always land in the still pond of the self that sends ripples, not unlike a stone tossed into still water. Takacs’ poems migrate out from the center through imagery, and discover, then embrace, the shifting self.