BOOK REVIEW: ‘daddy closet’ by CD Nelsen
by CD Nelsen
Finishing Line Press
In a series of poignant and delightfully original poems of intense and conveying metaphor, author, poet and former Berkshire Eagle columnist CD (Cheryl Diane) Nelsen of Dalton has just published her first chapbook of poems reflecting on her life in poetic narrative and titled “daddy closet.” The poem of that title portrays her dynamic and inventive father who created his own closet when “Mother’s beaded bags, high heels, cocktail dresses commandeered their bedroom walk-in.” The poem takes readers back to her father’s powerful impact of being both clever – having rigged a light to magically switch on when he opened the closet – and traumatic – when, at the age of 6, she was taken by him to the movie “Psycho,” with him “not realizing the b&w shower scene will haunt me in full color for decades.”
The chapbook is a brilliant work of art in its way of revealing how seemingly fleeting events in our lives can have enormous impact on memory, leaving lasting impressions in spite of or because of the careless actions of others. Every poem is right to the point about family relationships, colorful personalities and willful independence, written in the efficient nuance of poetry’s power to convey the idea through the irresistibly connective tissue of words. Nelsen brings this power to its taut edge in this very original and bracingly readable work.
Nelsen’s poetry represents a deeply absorbing essence of both natural and human atmospheres through inventively vibrant imagery, as in the opening of the poem “custodian”:
“ground usually baked to cracks by May
one wet June: volunteer blooms riot in school field
unexpected transplants like most us Houston residents
fluttering petals on undulating stems
under steamy bright blaze.”
Some of the best poetry in this debut volume is in the second half where her work opens into more recent and spiritually evolved writing that is written in prose stanzas that flow with a more contemporary style. In the poem “Certain Illusions,” the poet reflects deeply and with precision on philosophical and spiritual notions, rounding out the book with questions like, “Why does the mind cling to a particular memory, to a particular experience, hold on to a belief which has lost all meaning, why?” Her close relationship with the beautiful connections we have with nature – in “coyote valentine,” the story of a mortally wounded coyote; in the bird-watching adventure “like I told the hawk”; and the final poem, “Tu B’Shevat chant,” a lovely communing with trees – is gorgeous. These poems capture the observant mind of a life rich in experience and masterfully rendered verse.
Nelsen considers herself to be “tri-coastal” – as she grew up on the Gulf Coast in Houston and Austin, Texas, and moved to the Oregon coast in her mid 20s – and discovered her poetic voice after publishing in the journal Total Abandon and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has been on the East Coast here in the Berkshires since 1977. Nelsen has led many writing workshops and has taught writing and literature at the college level at SUNY Albany, Fisher Junior College and Berkshire Community College. She taught at the secondary level for 25 years at Lee Middle and High School.
A book launch event for CD Nelsen’s new chapbook, “daddy closet,” is planned to take place Saturday, April 7, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield.