about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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Sometimes We Walk with Our Nails Out
A Review of Sometimes We Walk with Our Nails Out
by Sarah Bartlett

Spencer Dew



“What I really want / is the resurrection of everyone / I ever loved,” Bartlett writes. “I will put them in a room,” she continues, “and never go inside.”

The excruciating is its own, distinct pleasure, a characteristic of living as opposed to merely being alive. The intentional delay, the domestic duplicity, the thing that defies meaning by being, in the final analysis, just a thing: these are the stones Bartlett tumbles to gem-sheen and smoothness, spitting them out, one by one, into poems that pay homage to disappointment, poems which speculate about disappointment’s absence, a numbness instead of a pang: “Once, I saw a dog run between the wheels / of a car and come out the other side missing / its tail,” she writes in another piece. “When I think about what I’ve lost, / nothing happens anymore.” Such lack of feeling comes, sometimes, as a relief, a departure from the world of accidents and gun holsters, indecision and animal shit.

Bartlett gives us poem after poem where feelings strangle and consume, infatuate and annoy. A lover’s lingering memory is like “a black cat. I choke on it, fur lining my throat.” In a dream a lover is “a Cat Stevens record / that skips on Moonshadow. I wake up and fall in love / with this flaw specifically.” Even when “contact is not advisable as such,” the relation with a lover is like having nails instead of blood or possessing a body made of grenades. The edges of such feeling are punctuated by nature—a rabbit, screaming, for instance—weather—“It is raining so hard / I think you are crumpling paper / in your sleep”—and the shift of seasons, experienced primarily as a process of waiting and waiting some more. Just out of reach, like hallucinated mist, these are the vital excruciations that prove we’re still inside the room of the un-resurrected.

“The world expresses hopefulness,” Bartlett says, “in the form of birdsong / and celestial necromancy and options,” and as gross and fallible and wildly implausible such things may be, they are nonetheless living. Things are still happening here, even if, in these poems, the poet expresses ambivalence about which room she’d prefer to call home. “Hidden behind our building, the moon performs / its usual routine,” she seems to sigh, “disappointing no one.”

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