Buzzed Books #11 by Stephen McClurg
Nicole Callihan’s SuperLoop
While re-reading Nicole Callihan’s SuperLoop, I noticed similarities to Charles Bukowski’s work, starting with form. In general, Callihan uses three forms: lists (including a recipe), sonnet variations, and thin, vertical columns that I’m not sure even have a technical name, but that I associate with Bukowski. The basic topics of the book are familiar: loss, memory, love, and family, but where Bukowski’s father plagues his work, a mother figure haunts SuperLoop. Also, Callihan’s clear and direct style is—on the surface—not unlike Bukowski’s. Even when she doesn’t use traditional punctuation (“The Wind” or “October, night”), her poems are easy to read. But where Bukowski mines slang and vulgarity, Callihan explores surrealism, and in these images is where the power of her poetry ultimately lies.
I was immediately drawn into the collection with its opener “August Afternoon.” In a list of “I did nots”that become “I wills,” the speaker tells us “I did not eat a peach today / or give birth or floss.” The images get increasingly complex, from “I did not drown // or remember to buy cat food” to the Cummings-esque ending of “O love, // even the peonies have noted / the pupils of your eyes.”
The images in these poems, as opposed to the style, can occasionally be dense and difficult, which is not a bad thing—one might argue that this is expected in poetry. But this also points to the problems of writing timely reviews that do justice to a poet’s work. I am only beginning to understand some of these poems and a few I’m not sure I comprehend or relate to on even a basic level. I appreciate that uncertainty, though; the book will attract multiple readings.
“It may end with my mother” is one of the poems that I’m still thinking about. There is something apocalyptic in the imagery, but I don’t know what to make of it. The speaker begins by saying “It may end with my mother / dog-chained to some fence / behind some double-wide trailer.” Or, the end may look more like “one boy looking for a whale / three busted doors / Hands off the mermaid / or I’ll blow out your fucking brains.” While I don’t know how to process the entirety, I love lines like a “casserole the color of sunset.” Like this poem, SuperLoop hits on all levels, from instant favorite to indecipherable. And like poetry in general, the possibility holds that what appears indecipherable now, may become a favorite later.
The closing piece, “The Poem,” is placed perfectly. It begins with a controlled and playful word association that continues throughout:
The poem may
begin with an article—
or an article
one who sweats—
Later, several images return, including the mother, an unnamed lover, and bones. Overall, “The Poem” intoxicatingly brings the book to a close, while urging the reader to open it again.
Pair with: a snow rose martini.
1 1/2 oz. vodka
1 oz. white crème de cacao
1/4 oz. rose water
1/2 shaker of snow
Organic, pesticide-free rose petals for garnish