A Review of "Absence of Stars" by Nicole Rollender (Dancing Girl Press, 2015) by Juliet Cook

In the thirteen poems within Nicole Rollender's Absence of Stars chapbook,  "A hummingbird’s skeleton opens my hands / like a flower".  The content of this collection is filled with flowers and bones, flight towards the light and falling down onto the ground, tiny and helpless. The beginning of the collection is inspired by the early birth of a tiny baby, a living life form that could have died but emerged from the womb too soon, a new life that starts out with skin attached to almost death-like bones. The bones of the tiny living baby connect to memories of the past and the bones of the dead, and perhaps a  wondering of what this child's bones will grow into, how life and death will handle that new body.

From the first poem in the chapbook,  "Necessary Work"

Roman poets put skulls in their love poems – the mortal
with the immortal, the dark in the brilliant death-light; the plum falling

from its long branch, then sweetly decomposing. The excruciating
parting of our two bodies, that was necessary. Your tiny body – you can’t

even drink my milk – sleeps in my palm. Holding you, my hand is a cradle

of bone...

The bones inside meat connect to the carnage of wild life and what lies beneath or beyond or above - the possibility of the next life, of heaven. The throwing of salt and flinging of apples and tossing of flowers. The licking of salt and other small rituals involving bread and milk and bread and bones and bread and more flowers.

From the poem, "Alms for Birds"

...Hidden once, I watched

my father kick a dog against a fence,
as I ate honeysuckle

seasick, forming the place where my child
is a wetted bird broken out too


The interconnections of sinners and saints, parent and child, human and non-human, and haunted souls of the living and the dead, "Does the flock / that leaves one drowned in the river ever forget its black wings and shimmering eye?".  Wings, twigs,  living and dead birds, living and dead animals, skulls, broken teeth, broken necks.

From the poem, "Lullaby"

When he fell, Mama

was twisting a duck’s neck out back, a mercy
he landed skull first.

Her hands tracing bones, cranium bottom-pierced
to let the spirit

flash out from the body...

The living and the dead surround each other throughout theAbsence of Stars as does the darkness and the light. There are parts of both in this collection and I prefer the darker edged elements, the uneasy emotions, the twinges of viscera and snapped necks more than the delicate land-based, plant-based aspects. Appealingly to me, the dark and light parts are often uniquely intertwined within mere lines of each other. A good example of such entwinement takes place within the beginning of the title poem.

From the poem "Absence of Stars"

This is the oldest part of the cemetery, then, this snow dripping in bone yards,
bones, bones –

delicate milk teeth, scooped from a mother’s grave by a woman, peeling apples,

the morning light and somewhere a heart is cleaving,

unspooling air...

On a personal level, regarding my reaction to much of Nicole Rollender's poetry that I've read, it is interesting to me how Rollender openly identifies herself as Catholic and offers a lot of God-like and biblical elements in her poems (within this Absence of Stars chapbook - and also within herBone of My Bone chapbook, which was recently published by my own Blood Pudding Press - and also within poems of hers I've read in different literary magazines) and that I am drawn to and relate to parts of the poems.  I am someone who was raised Catholic - reached a point of feeling as if it was being forced upon me and as if I was not allowed to make my own choices - reached a point of feeling/acting anti-Catholic - had years of considering myself an Atheist and now consider myself Agnostic with my own sort of spiritual flow, who is open to others spiritual flows, as long as they're not forced upon me in some sort of black and white, right and wrong capacity. I've found myself wondering what it is about some of Rollender's poetry that appeals to me so strongly - and I think a large part of it is because, not only is her writing style unique and emotional and visceral, there is also nothing black and white or right and wrong about her content. It is mentally connected and haunted in both light and dark ways.  It is questioning (of the past, present, and future), female body-based (including discomfort associated with parts of the living body combined with joy for parts of what the body can do combined with pain and what the body can handle and how it can unexpectedly malfunction), and drawn to another dimension in a haunted sort of way.

Some of her poems' visceral aspects remind me of my young overly sensitive Catholic mind being strongly drawn to the torture of female saints, being terribly fearful of hell, and feeling as if I was not good enough for heaven, not because of how I behaved, but because of the creepy, gruesome images that lived inside my mind. Frequently questioning and confessing, whether or not I was in a confessional booth. Confessing to myself inside my own head, sometimes confessing to others even though they didn't ask me to, still sometimes confessing inside my own poems. Maybe my poems are some sort of abstract, anti-repression, Agnostic confessional booth.

I relate to Nicole Rollender's mind for being openly expressive, for not attempting to hide the uncertainty and questions, the unsettling dark parts of life, or how life can suddenly end, or how life can maybe begin again in a ghostly haunted heavenly way.  Rollender coalesces the light and the dark and thus instigates thoughts and feelings about life and death and their intermingling.

From the poem, "Breviary Notes"

dreams of my mother devouring the light.
Overflowing bowl of collarbones.

I run on stripped feet in a river forever tearing rocks.
One of my ribs wrapped

in feathers. Where my soul is a place, the flare
of paradise, snow...


Nicole Rollender is editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly ReviewBest New PoetsThe JournalRadar PoetrySalt Hill JournalTHRUSH Poetry JournalWest Branch, Word Riot and others. Her first full-length poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. She is the author of the chapbooksArrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX JournalRuminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her online at nicolerollender.com.

Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and red explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications. She is also the editor and publisher of Blood Pudding Press (which publishes print poetry chapbooks) and Thirteen Myna Birds (Blood Pudding Press's spooky little sister, an online blog style lit mag). You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.

Nicole Rollender's "Absence of Stars" (Dancing Girl Press, 2015) -https://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage/products/absence-of-stars

Nicole Rollender's "Bone of My Bone"  (Blood Pudding Press, 2015) - https://www.etsy.com/shop/BloodPuddingPress

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