by Geoffrey Nutter
Wave Books 2010
Reviewed by Kate Angus
“with ever-growing care, and interest”
Christopher Sunset, Geoffrey Nutter’s most recent collection, is a book that sails forward into a world of transformations and immense possibility. In it, one might buy “watermelon / sold from a blue shack, or a shark,” and Nutter’s openness to the potential inherent within that tiny consonant-shift allows him to present a world where “If shark, the fruit / has quills, exquisite” and, by the poem’s end, “banished from the abstract,” readers finds themselves somewhere with “all doors ajar” (“Prospectus”).
The verb “sails” is an appropriate one for Christopher Sunset, not only because some of Nutter’s most frequently occurring images are of boats and the sea (as he himself makes note of with his announcement of “Nautical imagery” in “The Sea and the Bells”), but also because the movement of many of these poems is like that of sailing — the way a boat propelled by the wind and tides may suddenly yet seamlessly shift its trajectory. Nutter is a poet whose hand rests on the rudder, but who is also confident enough to let his poem-ships follow the current underneath. It’s a movement similar to the way dreams progress (dreams and sleep are two other motifs in this collection) where the propulsive force of associative imagery leads each poem forward down the page.
This is not to say, however, that the book is abstract or unfocused; rather, Christopher Sunset presents poems where concrete images allow both contemplation and an acknowledgement of the almost numinous possibilities inherent in the world. Because anything can happen, everything can happen, and we all–even the poems themselves–want to know what the future holds. In the book’s opening poem, “The Strawberry,” Nutter’s description of a “pale yellow strawberry” leads us to the shadow of the pavilion where it grows, and that in turn allows us to “play in its beginning / the way children played in this pavilion,” and soon the poet asks us “What happens next?”, a question that he follows with images of the somewhat ominous night where “the city lurches forward with its white eye” and the information that “something, in these leaves, is watching us.” There is an immense strength in Nutter’s willingness to be ambiguous here. That observant presence could just as easily be a predator as a protector as it watches “with ever-growing care, and interest”; the “care,” after all, could be concern about us as much as concern for us. Still, the overall sense in both this poem and the book as a whole is that whatever is watching us is doing so with solicitude, that it is paying us the same kind of serious attention that this poet asks us to pay to both the external and internal world. There’s a sense of connection or camaraderie that prevails: whatever is in the leaves “wants to see what will happen next, too.”
Nutter’s vision is a remarkably positive one–his is not the elegiac voice nor does he croon with dark hipster cynicism. Instead, this is a book full of yeses and metamorphoses: the pink carnation heads that become bells or small busts of deceased Spanish philosophers or lamps or heads that “nod yes, nod yes” (“Miguel de Unamuno”) or the way that a Max Ernst painting resurfaces as a “prayer book / called Children Menaced by a Nightingale” that will fill us with tenderness (“Bedtime Stories”). These are generous poems, full of the impulse both to pay attention to things as they are and to allow them to become whatever other things their deeper selves contain or lead to. It is, again, the sort of generosity that comes to most of us in dreams where we too, as in this book’s final echo of the Song of Songs, might say, “I sleep…but my heart is awake” (“Je Dors, Main Mon Coeur Veille”).