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Navajo artist R. C. Gorman inspires a meditation on womanhood and motherhood in this new poetry collection from Brenda Nicholas.
The poems in this new collection from Brenda Nicholas are all inspired in one way or another by the works of Navajo artist R. C. Gorman, and it’s a bonus if the reader is led to investigate Gorman’s art through this connection. But these are ekphrastic poems of the highest order, in that it isn’t really necessary to see the art that inspires the poem, nor do the poems often describe the works themselves. Instead, the art serve as impetus for Nicholas to consider her true subject matter here, which is womanhood and motherhood. Thus a Gorman depiction of a Navajo woman surrounded by turquoise beads prompts the poem “Devotional” in which the beads re-emerge in the interplay between a daughter and her exhausted mother – “Let’s play dress-up!” – an occasion recalled years later after the daughter is long grown and gone, the mother left touching a “cold empty space in front of her” that once was “their little church on the floor, full of songs.” These are achingly lovely, essential poems, full of hard-won wisdom: “When I was young, I thought I could own love,” she confesses, “I thought love meant taming / a wandering neighborhood beast / with a regular schedule of food / from my body’s cupboard” – only to realize with time that “you are but a butterfly on my shoulder, / and I cannot hold you / longer than you plan to stay.” Nicholas acknowledges her muse and their shared vocation in “Ars Poetica II” (after a self-portrait of the artist): “I see your colors connect to my poems / how both are consumed by eyes / how underneath are hidden bones.”
“These poems are constructed of the most luscious tensions: holding and releasing, closing and opening, cloaking and unwrapping, creating and unraveling. Within them natural processes become sensual art forms, celebrations are both personal and universal, and the American Southwest serves as both a backdrop and center stage. Palpable senses of yearning and eternity pervade as feminine energy sweeps across each page. Memories become ‘braided strips of time remembered and retold into the shape of a bowl, to hold whatever its user needs.’ This book is both a beautiful homage to Gorman’s art and a dreamlike meditation on desire, nurturing, and embodiment of life. These poems beg you to nestle in their wide laps while not losing sight of the stars above.” —Megan Neville, author of The Fallow
“From Gorman’s brushstrokes, Brenda Nicholas expertly weaves words that show us the way back to ourselves, through the wild stars and down to earth. The canyons and the cacti are our memories, the future is our past, and the whole world is right here, inside these pages, inside these paintings, inside of us.” —Lorette C. Luzajic, author of Winter in June
“DAY SWALLOWS NIGHT, a new collection by poet Brenda Nicholas, invites one to linger over her sensual and significant poems and consider their interplay with paintings of R.C. Gorman. Poems include raven haired women in ‘desert homes fraught with changing sand.’ There are cravings, drippings, hungry mouths, babies, floating mothers that move languidly from ‘singular to bouquet’ yearning and learning to listen, listen to a talking god. This sterling collection reinforces the notion Nicholas is indeed an up and coming poetic force. Her poems exude calm and clarity that help us ‘feel blue sky on our face.’” —G.S. Gulliksen, author of Simply of Stones: Selected Poems and Stories
Poetry. Native American Studies. Women’s Studies.
Brenda Nicholas is the author of the chapbook, Hari Om, Hurry Home (Finishing Line Press, 2021) and full- length collection Adrift a Fourth Wave (Kelsay Books, 2021). Her work has appeared in Sand Hills Literary Magazine, Evening Street Review, Unbroken, The Painted Bride Quarterly, The Ekphrastic Review, among others. Nicholas completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2016 and teaches English and Creative Writing at Cape Fear Community College.