Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Worrier by Nancy Takacs
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Katie Kingston

Worry is not a new concept, but Nancy Takacs’ treatment of the issue in her new collection, The Worrier, is both refreshing and unnerving. She cares about the plight of the natural world, and these poems address these concerns as well as their impact on our personal relationships. Each poem is an arena where vanishing bees “[p]lay practical jokes”; where algae is “[a] cross between turquoise fleece and lime velour”; where light comes from “[a] lightbox and nine double A batteries.” She immerses the reader in an endless pool of imagery rooted in sparse language as she addresses climate change and human encroachment. She allows the reader to ruminate under a rural Utah sky, get in touch with wilderness, relearn what it is to be “[b]lue mustard / igniting the desert field.”

Takacs’ “Worrier” enters into a dialogue with the self. The questions are honest, basic queries that arise from an everyday voice, as if formulated by a friend or parent, teacher or therapist: 

    What is the point of it? 
    What is that scar on your thumb?
    What are you looking for? 
    How will you remember to paint him? 
    What is the poet doing? 
    Where is your plastic?

These questions are a dynamic springboard for the answers that follow, which are unexpected, loaded with tension, and wildly juxtaposed. Each of the brief responses is weighted with wisdom. It’s as if a placid lake has been sliced open by a diver and the ripples surge in their wake. The twists, turns, and leaps in midair are breath-taking as in this poem subtitled “failure.” 

    Where does failure come from?

    Trilobites, corals,
    dinosaur footprints,
    ice-aged mammoths.

    How do you get rid of it?

    I’m learning not to trust the map.

These seemingly disparate jumps continue throughout the course of the book. No matter what the subtitled theme of each poem suggests, the answers are always unorthodox, always thought provoking, as evidenced again in the opening lines of “skin.” 

    What lives on the skin?

    A mirror and a cloud of tumbleweed.

In addition to her emphasis on dialogue, Takacs leaves the reader plenty of white space to absorb the ricochet of her words. Her pauses allow the reader to savor the stream of natural imagery and find a place for it, not as a conclusion, but as an opening that floods a void. Her silences are key to a resonance that internalizes these images for the reader as in the poem “volunteer.”  

    What have you given up? 
    but they seep into my mouth

    What do you feel?

    I feel embroidered tonight,
    like an intricate
    tablecloth of blossoms
    whose eyes stay open.

Each poem is a scaffolding of concern honed from direct questions and followed by answers juxtaposed on a stepladder where each rung is separated by white space. Just as the rung allows the foot to enter and raise the body to new heights, so too, Takacs’ use of white space allows the mind to enter the poem’s sensibilities and elevate. These Worrier voices resonate with the wisdom and turmoil of mid-life as they traverse remote, wilderness landscapes—Lake Superior, Devil’s Backbone, Swasey’s Leap, Flaming Gorge—exploring not only terrain, but a field of stunning images from a poet who knows firsthand “[w]hen the sandhill cranes / begin their chortle. / [w]hen the wind chime / stops its winks of glass.”

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