Immersed in Song If One of Us Should Fall by Nicole Terez Dutton (University of Pittsburgh, 2012)

Heather Madden
| Reviews

The poems of Nicole Terez Dutton’s debut collection, If One of Us Should Fall, which received the 2011 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, are marked by music and intimacy. Often addressing “you” or “we,” the speaker invites readers to travel with her from place to place as she gigs and documents camaraderie, love’s origami, and her encounters with racism as reflected and distorted by the “mirrored glasses” of law.

The book sings. We pass stripmalls, soyfields, and “crowd[s] streaming from a subway’s mouth,” “a field of fiercely bright azaleas,” and the “gas station’s sad halo of light.” There are quiet moments of reflection that lull us, and then off we go again, turning to glimpse what passes from coast to coast, what drives us westward and abroad, through longing and loss and desire.

Arranged in a variety of forms, Dutton’s poems offer several short but expansive portraits, as in the opening poem, “Girl #1,” which describes, in couplets, a girl “in clear, coal-hot squares of disco, the sudden/pangs and minnowed light moving....” By the end of the poem, the girl is released into possibility, a “...screen/door thrown wide and night coming on/like horses.” In “Tourists #2,” a prose poem, the speaker exclaims, “Thank god someone told us to pay attention. To mark these locations on our maps and in notebooks,” and that impulse informs the collection. Ever vigilant, the speaker doesn’t miss a thing, doesn’t wince when the view is unpleasant. She holds each moment close, and reports it in such a way that distance collapses and we are brought into the landscape of the poem.

In “More Stories for Your Canvas,” the narrator offers details across “bright and hurried patches of telephone conversation,” and the details are ugly:

There is a new object: By Louisiana all roads taper to a single bridge overlooking alligator glades. Police pulled a man from his car, flung him across the hood like laundry. The traffic surged past, a long parade of non-looking....

Yet Dutton’s narrator refuses to look away, taking in the scene until her line of sight is interrupted:

His head opened somewhere around the eye. A stain spread its low red. Keep it going. Nothing to see here. One smashed a gloved hand on our hood and waved us forward....

Reared in Pennsylvania, Heather Madden currently lives and writes in Providence, Rhode Island, and teaches creative writing at Hampshire College. She is a contributing editor to Salamander.

Metamorphoses Song & Error: Poems by Averill Curdy (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013).
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