Kathy Nilsson

of Cambridge, MA

Winner of the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award in 2011

IN THE BEGINNING it was like being alive

Any moment something fine was to

Come to me, a history with its infantry

Recollection of blue bending over me

From which good would issue—

I longed to be versatile, married late

Tried to accept all the children that would

Come, begging to be chloroformed

Like a kitten though you were the only one

As winters moved across a luminous, empty

Viewing gallery, in spring ephemerals

Living underground stimulated by radiation

Sprang up as panic grass a shade of green

That would break young horses, I saw how

The archeologists would arrive to find fibers

Of my robe thrilling and head on the ground

With the late apples, a color of the universe at large.        

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Timothy Donnelly on Kathy Nilsson

A poet is so often praised for his or her sense of wonder that it seems platitudinous or even almost meaningless to do so. That said, when you encounter the work of a poet like Kathy Nilsson—and if there are others out there like her, please step forward—you suddenly remember what all the fuss about wonder is about to begin with. Nilsson's imagination can zoom in on an orange and then pan back to the whole of Japan in the time it takes to break a line. It bounds back and forth through time with ease, even into the far future, when archeologists "arrive to find / fibers of (her) robe thrilling."  It continuously conflates personal and animal experience as if to chuckle at our narrow allegiance to the merely human perspective. And that's not the half of it. This work of hers induces the state of mind it is ostensibly the product of, so that reading these poems—witty, poignant, sonically charming, cunning, uncanny, a little absurd but never not elegantly phrased, poised—we begin to feel our minds' own possibilities enlarge. Being is presented with all its originary strangeness restored: "You must be tied with string to the house," she writes, "so you won't fly away."  Elsewhere, an overcoat recovers "the shape of / the animal from which it came." The wild vitality of things that habituation and the hypertrophy of reason have beaten underground leaps back to the surface under Nilsson's influence. These poems startle me into happiness. They distract me from the dull matters at hand.  They remind me of what it's like to live.

 

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