Review: Bright Brave Phenomena by Amanda Nadelberg

A lamp is something that brings light to a room, something you turn on. A person you love is something that brings light to a room, something that turns you on. I am not the first to make this connection. Nina Simone does it better when she croons, “like a light bulb in a darkened room, I’m just sitting here waiting for you to come on home and turn me on.” Now, mix Simone’s lonely little light bulb with the slap-dash fish-net leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story and you are getting closer to an Amanda Nadelberg creation. Each of her poems are “incredible bulbs the colors of a game of colors” (89), and they are so loosely contained that a stray spark could light everything up at any moment. “Put me out, put me out” she writes in her poem, You Were Shoveling the Snow and I was the Snow (16).

“A good story is not necessarily/ about two people, it’s about fire, or other/ moveable things” Amanda asserts (20), and she proves it by transforming these two people into mountains, blankets, shoes and snow. She is lit up like a lamp, like a candle, like a fire and occasionally in the boozy Christmas tree way, too. “When I lived on Killdeer street I/ had the best parties. Important drinks/ came down from the fixtures. Like light./ At night when it’s quiet I can still/ see all the jumping. All the jumping we did./ Marks of hoof love all over the floor,/ from all the jumping” (11). Killdeer street? Hoof love? That’s just totally wacky and adorable.

Nadelberg’s poems rejoice in their complete freedom and then immediately rein themselves in for the compromise of an intimate connection: “walk on me a minute. Let me lose my breath a little” (69). They project themselves out into the world but then look back to the reader for reassurance. “We went walking – is/ this boring? We went walking for/ sandwiches – is this? And it/ was California and my sweater,// electric, seen so far away, I was also/ electric and we were electric we were/ wet electric because it was raining” (39). With all this electricity and light bulbs, all the bright, lit up lady lamps I would be cautious when Amanda Nadelberg writes, “Come on, I’m exciting to be with you./ I said, I’ve got a live dandelion” (45). One never thinks of a live dandelion the way they think of, say, a live chicken. The flower is as alive as if Nadelberg might have circled it a few times and pounced. But then, maybe this dandelion is even more precarious. Think of a live wire.

leg lamps anobium

Colors and light in Nadelberg’s poems hold the same weighty presence as objects. In “Another Interpretation,” for example, colors reappear listed in different permutations, like a nervous twitch. They become important elements to detailing emotional landscapes and for forming real, vivid structures. “I keep these thoughts/ of you” she writes, “having fun, they turn into stoves/ and my friend the painter says, if you/ paint it red people are going to like it (94). One can’t help but think of an inside-out dialogue here with Frank O’hara’s poem, “Why I Am Not a Painter.”

But there’s something more to color. As noted earlier, it is used to detail a kind of emotional landscape that Nadelberg inhabits. The short lines and sections of the collection have a breathless let-me-tell-you-everything that pulls the reader along. “I say things/ because I’m going to lead you to a place and/ when we get there it will be so sad” she writes and, at the end of “Me and the Badass,” she exclaims, “the wonderment of hysteria!” (6) Later on, hysteria takes shape as “a garden, a house/ the colors are beautiful” (100). Women live in this garden or house, making lamps, or being lamps or just pure fire, trying to get through life without getting burned. As she puts it in her poem “Here in the Space-Time Continuum”: “I shine. I keep trying” (33).

Amanda will be joining Chicagoan Lisa Fishman at Danny’s Tavern Reading Series on April 25th.

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