reviewed by Maya Phillips
In Norma Cole’s Fate News, a book whose title turns on its head the derisive “fake news,” she offers an array of experimental musings on time and art in four sections. In the opening poem she begins in space, with creation and destruction as her focus, and she continues through the first section with a series of occasional poems, elegies, and others written in dedication. Cole’s poems simultaneously shrink the substantial in their gaze (“Distant mountain ridgelines / flatten to paper in daylight”) and take in the enormousness of the universe. Her use of form is variable; the book includes prose poems, colorful lyrics, songs, and poems that engage in a wily sense of language play. The second section, “Ongoing,” is a long lyrical sequence, center-aligned on the page, the lines stripped down with spare punctuation. Everything, including the “woven moonlight” that’s “pulled by hand from earth / linen from line” moves slowly, languorously. The effect is a dreamy, impressionistic pastoral. If “Ongoing” is the painting, then “Stay Songs for Stanley Whitney” explores the act of perceiving art, when “we listen, eye // in the hand.” References to music and visual art flavor the diction here, the “vibrato opening onto // attention’s staccato conditions,” the “colors that / fall,” calling for hefty consideration but ending on a delicate note: “there will be / song // for the paintings / say / stay.” Cole’s final section mirrors the first in its tone but with a focus on poems about expectations and hesitancies, with a final line that cautions against misplaced hope: “Mercy does not come from the sky.”
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2018.