POETRY

Nightingale

Copper Canyon. May 2019. 96p. ISBN 9781556595677. pap. $16. POETRY
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OrangeReviewStarPoems by two-time Kingsley Tufts Prize finalist Rekdal (Imaginary Vessels) are rich with sensory language and a gift for story, real or invented. Here, the poet retells many of Ovid's myths, modernizing them and including a sonnet sequence and long narrative piece that moves between poetry and prose. In addition, she invokes the nightingale, long a symbol for poets, as the centerpiece of these poems. But her nightingale doesn't deliver a sweet night song. In Ovid's "Philomela" metamorphosis, the bird becomes the symbol of violence. Philomela, who was raped and mutilated, doesn't cry out—nor does the character in Rekdal's reimagining, who is also being violated. Have they become inarticulate? Tongue-tied? Terrified by fear? In Ovid's story, Philomela's tongue is cut out, and she becomes a nightingale. Since female nightingales are mute, it begs the question: Do we need to speak to be heard? Rekdal carries the question forward with urgency: "Sing,/ for you are voiceless. Sing, for it cannot matter. Sing, for soon no one/ will hear you again."
VERDICT Lovely, lyrical, bracing work: a must-read.

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