Nice Feelings by Iris Appelquist
Publisher: Spartan Press (2016)
Purchase: $15 directly to the author
Review by James H Duncan
From page one it is obvious Iris intends to cut to the bone, no waiting, and she’ll draw as much blood as it takes to see the reflection of our struggling straining reality, of our love and lies and sexual frustrations and boundaries, as well as the layered veils that make up our relationships with one another. As she makes clear in the first poem, “you don’t say,” there are things we give up in sex, and things we’ll never relinquish:
(when i learned about my
virginity and that someone
was going to take it
from me, i cut my hymen
with a pocket knife i found
in the dirt at the park.)
I actually flinched when I first read that, but how many women flinch (at the very least) when that moment is ripped from them by another, likely a very inconsequential other in any other way. It’s suddenly, to this reader, a commanding moment of empowerment. We’re one poem in and Appelquist is kicking down the door.
Yet these poems aren’t just a series of defiant moments, but rather a pendulum of emotions and narratives, some fiercely declarative and others lost and woeful with desperation and occasional flair of surrealism, or perhaps hyper-realism, or some other fancy label for the poet’s ability to solder multiple ideas and linear disappointments into one concise line, stanza, poem, to take up residence in other perspectives and genders and frustrations with rapid fire transmissions. The flow feels borderline relentless, like watching a friend drive faster and faster around curves at night and you know she’s had too many to drink and you know how dangerous it is but something inside keeps you quiet as you watch with eyes getting wider and wider, trusting, almost encouraging by your willingness to continue with silent awe.
everywhere desperate for identity and a
vernacular peace with which to moll the hours
countless staggered hanging by right angles
off into space finally and never sticking
to anything all the sweet nothings and
epic failures our crimes our fealties our
whole deal everywhere is sent off to
a somewhere else altogether…
A stanza from “home is”, taken from a poem that seems to hold the center of what the collection says to me (at least), that we’re all desperate for some identity and peace that can guide us through the mess, that can serve as our rock, that nobody can take away…a hard thing to find, as it seems anyone can take anything away, especially when love and time and sex and trust are involved. Love and sex and this chaos we find ourselves in, it’s all so tenuous and painful and addicting, and at some point we find ourselves drinking alone and flip through our identities and peaceful moments and treasured loves and sexual desires like they were old Christmas and birthday cards, things that held such weight in one moment in time, but now feel so useless. These poems kept bringing up that emotion in me, kept questioning my own wants and needs and histories and identities. It’s a harrow thing to sit alone and think about night after night, but as Appelquist says in “macro/micro”:
there is a comfort being
miniscule infinitely closer
to nothing than everything it’s
a comfort that our horrors are
an insignificant malady
of this organism Earth
Appelquist’s poems inflict as many emotional questions as they present, and are fevered with desire, doubt, and an exalting rush of empowering fire—a fire so hot we burn down to ash and lose all form, control, and understanding of what the hell just happened to us.
Nice Feelings by Iris Appelquist is an exceptional collection of poems available through Spartan Press.
James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review, a former editor with Writer's Digest, and the author of Dead City Jazz, Berlin, Dealing with the Devil in the Middle of the Road, and other collections of poetry. He currently resides in upstate New York where a sleeping dog and unstable stacks of unread books keep him company. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.