All glass is an eye that breaks
itself into blindness, a jagged
swarm of relief…
The Diminishing House is Nicky Beer’s first book, and this seems appropriate, as the poems are all about origins and the act of becoming. In the above lines, from her poem “Season of the Drunken Wasps”, Beer explores how things get to where they are – sometimes broken, sometimes flawed – and this recurs throughout The Diminishing House. Her poems create a mythology behind their subjects.
The poem from which the collection takes its name describes a house which rapidly begins to deteriorate, without any explanation. The speaker doesn’t seek a reason, beginning the prose poem with “It took us some time to notice. The whole thing could have been going on for weeks beforehand”. Eventually she sees inside the house; the furniture wrapped in sheets, the plaster stripped away. The poem never directly articulates any feeling of loss. There is a great sense that this is what the house is now, and the things which point to its origins are objects to be mythologized hidden within it – a sheet faded by laundering, an easy chair.
Beer said in an interview with Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum that in writing this book, she wrestled with how to write about her father’s death “in a way that didn’t feel overly sentimental or emotionally exploitative” – and this is a challenge she has overcome. In this book, the physical is often representative of emotional, intangible structures. This acceptance of the reality versus the mythology makes for a very human narrative throughout the collection, one that is always questioning yet also embracing. In the poem “Cardinal Virtue”, she considers: ”Perhaps you don’t suppose / that there’s any other way, which is itself / a kind of mercy.”
“I fed on myths of my father’s youth” she says in the poem “Erosion”. This mythology of her father is eventually turned into the corporeal, with the line “I learned later that dust / was mostly skin.” The Diminishing House is about balancing these two disparate ways of seeing and thinking in order to create. The diminishing house in the poem is noticed because it is diminishing; it becomes new in the eyes of the speaker as a broken thing.
Let’s close this blog, as Beer closes her book, with lines from the poem “Types of Breathing”:
In our wake, what remains is the body
and the word body.
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