Last year, The End of Pink by Kathryn Nuernberger won the prestigious James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, given for a distinguished second collection by a poet. It’s easy to see why.
The collection is marked by imagination and creativity, involving different poetry forms, mythic characters, historical figures, folklore, science, and even relationships. Reading it is akin to a roller coaster ride—unexpected twists and turns, quick ascents, and sometimes thrilling (and terrifying) descents.
The titles of the individual poems give an idea of what’s happening. “Bat Boy Washed Up Onshore,” “The Saint Girl Takes in Strays” (one of several “Saint Girl” poems, as arresting as they are disconcerting), and “Peter, Raised by Wolves (1726)” are only a few examples of the poet’s roving imagination.
A peacock or two make appearances in several of the poems.
My First Peacock
I keep a white peacock behind my ear,
a wasn’t, a fantail of wasn’ts,
nevered feathers upon evered
falling all over the grass.
When a green peacock landed
on my shoulder to shimmy
its iridescent trills, everyone asked
if it was my first peacock.
It’s impolite to speak of the translucent tail
hanging down behind your ear
like a piece of hair brushed back
in a moment lost to thought.
To make the well-wishers uncomfortably shift
their weight by saying, No,
first I had this white peacock.
Because it’s not anyone’s fault
who can’t see the glaucoma
eyes on mist plumes
that don’t see them back.
So I say, Yes. And I say
how very emerald joy is,
how very leafed with lapis and gilding.
Nuernberger’s thematic range in these 38 poems is astonishing. Jacques Derrida is here, as is an 1838 prospectus to investors on electricity and volcanic power. Or you can read about P.T. Barnum’s mermaid exhibition. And Rene Descartes. And the birds of Ohio. And that Saint Girl, with her strays and her tortures, her isochronal error, her dying and going to heaven (where, inevitably, she causes problems), and even her simple opening and closing of a window, but perhaps not in that order.
Nuernberger teaches creative writing at the University of Central Missouri. Her first poetry collection, Rag & Bone, won the 2010 Elixir Press Antivenom Poetry Prize (how’s that for a name?). At the university, she also serves as the director of Pleiades Press.
The End of Pink is wild, it’s exuberant, and it sits out there at the very frontier of imagination. It’s a remarkable collection.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish