Songs from a Mountain

by Stephen Burt

Nadelberg’s smart, delightful, deliberately disorganized third book at once carries forward the rangy, nonlinear oddity of her second, Bright Brave Phenomena, and recovers the stellar charm of her debut, Isa the Truck Named Isadore. All-over-the-place in their length as in their forms—from blocky paragraphs to long stuttering lines to run-on, five-beat-or-so free verse—the poems stay together through Nadelberg’s personality: distractible, worried, delighted, always looking (sometimes amid thick layers of grief) for new ways to like the world. “[O] imagine life under a tree,” she muses, “hair / against the headrest of day,” with “tote bag misses under bridges there / are birds outside windows. What earth.” Some quips could be directions for self-improvement or quiet musings about the artificiality of language: “I’ve replaced / the flowers with marzipan.” With techniques drawn from the New York School and the Surrealists, but a sensibility closer to Wes Anderson, Nadelberg asks “if I’m / being impossible in a new / way” before instructing herself, “Push the / plant into the sun”; she gestures toward her childhood and toward her parents, who “have always celebrated newness, with our petite cat handmade bread hunts in the dark, for being Jewish.” “There is such a thing as simple affection,” the California-based poet declares, and she demonstrates as much. But there is challenge, and sometimes chaos, here too: Her attention, like her verse line, can imitate “skee ball, a remedy for anomalies,” imploring, bizarrely, “Dress me in spatulas,” even as she revels in her anomalous self.

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2016.