January 2007

Courtney Birst-Wyrick


Why Speak? by Nathaniel Bellows

Nathaniel Bellows first collection of poetry, Why Speak? is a vivid book which seems sadly beautiful throughout. These poems require careful reading, as the meanings slip through your fingers like sand, yet instead of being a chore to read each poem more than once, it is an enjoyable treat. A hint of sadness permeates nearly every poem, yet the recurring nature theme allows the poems to come alive and not be swallowed by the sadness.

“Russian Birch” begins, “Is it agony that has bleached them to such beauty?” The poem continues to paint a beautiful picture of pain, sorrow, and suffering. The poem “Removal” talks of removing household items and the memories these items hold. These memories seem painful, as if recalling innocent, happy times has become too much to bear.

A lovely affirmation of life is found in “Horticultural”: “I could not saw the fallen tree -- not all / of it had fallen -- because somehow each spring, / the rotted half still mysteriously bloomed.”

The poem “Five Funerals” is the most rhythmic poem in the book. It flows so nicely off the tongue you nearly forget what the words are as you read along. This will be the only poem in the book that slides so easily from my mind. The others will remain rooted, waiting for me to reread them again to grasp their meaning.

“An Attempt” is filled with startling beauty: “The ivy split, released / a peacock. The blue caught my eye; all of its eyes caught my eye -- all its eyes, / splayed out along the tail, which it dragged across the grass, a heavy net.” Ultimately, he cannot appreciate the beauty, “because I ended up feeling pity for the bird, for it’s useless / spectrum of blues, odd little crown.” Yet it seems he is attempting to find beauty, attempting to move past feeling more than simply empathy for someone or something.

“…we don’t plan these things. / We don’t need the meaning. So why speak of it? Why speak?” So ends the title poem “Why Speak?”  Yet while the book ends questioning the reasons to talk of things, it seems the rest of the book has done exactly the opposite -- speaking of things that cannot always be explained, things that do not always have clear meanings. This poem’s conclusion ends the book nicely -- after all this, why speak?

Why Speak? by Nathaniel Bellows
W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 0393062406
87 pages