I love the verbal incantation, the spell of words cast by poetry. Our current social crisis, with its urgency and ER alarms, seems to overwhelm the lure of musical sound. It’s no wonder that I love the power that poet Alice Oswald, keen magician versed in multiple voices, summons in her new book “Nobody” (Cape, 2019)
Oswald takes as her starting point a hapless side story from Homer’s Odyssey, the fate of an anonymous poet. “The poet” is taken to a remote island, left to die in a triangle of love stories between mortal and divine. The narrative gives Oswald the occasion to write immersively, from the inside out – immersion and dissolution in water a theme she works with seeming inexhaustible attention and imagination. For instance: “and the waves pass each other from one colour to the next/and sometimes mist a kind of stupefied rain/slumps over the water like a teenager.” The poet delights in her mystical moves – closeups, long shots – with meditative intelligence. In the chaos of our world, a willful individual divorced from and standing against the natural world is quaint and unsustainable. “Nobody” is classically old and radically new in this elegy of human consciousness. The process of dissolution is also a process of recovery, a baptism in the experience of universal nothing. What remains is the song, many-voiced, long-lasting – a moving incantation.