Category Archives: Featured Poets

Featured Poet: Jude Nutter

Jude5

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Jude Nutter was born in Yorkshire, England, and grew up near Hannover, in northern Germany.  She studied printmaking at Winchester School of Art (UK) and received her MFA in poetry from The University of Oregon.  Her poems have appeared in numerous national and international journals and have received over forty awards and grants, including two McKnight Fellowships, The Moth International Poetry Prize, The Larry Levis Prize, The William Matthews Prize, the Joy Harjo Poetry Award, and grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the National Science Foundation’s Writers and Artists Program in Antarctica.  Her first book-length collection, Pictures of the Afterlife (Salmon Poetry), winner of the Irish Listowel Prize, was published in 2002. The Curator of Silence (University of Notre Dame Press), her second collection, won the Ernest Sandeen Prize and was awarded the 2007 Minnesota Book Award in poetry.  A third collection, I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman (University of Notre Dame Press), was awarded the 2010 Minnesota Book Award in poetry and voted Poetry Book of the Year by ForeWord Review, New York.  Her fourth collection Dead Reckoning, published by Salmon Poetry, Ireland, in 2021, was listed by The Telegraph (UK) as one the 10 best collections published in Ireland and the UK in 2021.  She currently lives in Minneapolis, and divides her time between Minnesota and Dingle, Ireland, where she has a family home.

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Barry Lopez once claimed that there are times when a person needs a story more than they need food to stay alive. While this, on the surface, might seem like a grand claim — a claim that ignores the realities of such extremities as war and exile and illness — I believe that Lopez’s claim is true on both a figurative and literal level: that the right story at the right time can save a life. Think of the importance of story, throughout history, in tribal and clan cultures; stories and teachings that should never be trivialized by calling them fables or “tales,” because these stories teach lessons, strengthen cultural and community ties, and keep history and values alive. Take away, prohibit, or discount a culture’s stories and you destroy that culture—a reality that colonial powers have long known and exploited.

There are countless essays on the function and structure of narrative poetry, on the power of organizing and ordering experience, on the politics of “choice.” Many critics of the narrative impulse in poetry have attacked the narrative either because it is considered “inadequate” when it comes to expressing contemporary experience, or because story (any story) “presents itself as the whole story.” While it is good, and necessary, to question a presented reality, it seems to me that what is not being acknowledged here is the fact that narrative poets have never claimed their narratives to be absolute; in fact, I would claim that narrative poems, from Homer to Frost, are, often, a means to an end; that the literal story is secondary, or even inconsequential. This is certainly true for me: while each poem holds at its core a literal/true event or experience, the poem is built from fiction and imagination as well as autobiography. I find a strict adherence to autobiography impossible and far too limiting: the challenge is to create/invent a world in which the larger ideas one discovers behind the literal event (the frisson that prompted the exploration in the first place) rise up through the poem’s frame. I say “frame” because the poem is a structure, a marriage of fact and fiction—a series of hierarchies, segments and transitions that enable something beyond, and deeper, than story.

[JD]

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Jude Nutter: Four Poems

VISIBLE WOMAN, VISIBLE MAN

…complete 15” tall models, each including skeleton, internal organs and a clear
plastic skin. Of course, what you get is all the bits and pieces. So the assembler must
identify the parts, paint them, and complete the finished model.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx— Sciplus.com

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxfor Mr Davis

I. Afraid of the Ruins

There are bodies involved, but not mine
and not his. If life was hummed
into mud and dust then why
not water? Because that
is what it looks like: light
inside water standing up and skin
coalescing from the very first taste
of sun, frit of sky in the blood and almost
every bone visible. I do not like these bodies;

I do not like how they open,
perfectly, along the puckered seam
of each coronal axis into
a glass-clear hull for the long,
unbloodied bones, for the fixed
jaunty drape of the liver
like a French beret. For the brain’s
hard cud. Knotted lash
of the spine. Nothing

fluid, confused, vertiginous; no
loose shifting, no roil of fury
for a different life. Each body on its own
plastic rostrum and no
matter how close always those inches
of air between them. After the fall,

then, after the apple, on his desk
at the front of the lab—my own Eve, my own
Adam, in a new world of secular miracles,
of small crucifixions under glass: hairstreak,
orange tip, clouded apollo, gatekeeper,
comma, cryptic wood white, all

with a single hair-thin pin
through the thorax. And all the charts

and schematics, all the graphs
and diagrams: nervous systems,
Krebs cycle, cell division—the spread
fingerlets of each chromosome, the corset
of its centromere. And those harvesters

of sunlight: the granum of chloroplasts stacked
like green coins, the currency

through which light becomes chemical, becomes
energy. Why would I not believe

that I could eat light and live?

II. “Bewilderment increases in the presence of the mirrors.”

July. Summer pouring
slowly into its traces. Semaphore
of batons as the relay teams
practice hand-offs on the track

while in the lab, with the top button
of every shirt undone, with every tie
a slack noose, we sit
before our microscopes, evenly

spaced at long wooden benches
between gas taps fitted
with two-way teats for the rubber hoses
of our Bunsen burners and

every living cell, he is saying, contains
within it the primed code of its own
undoing and outside the crowns
of the oaks fill with loose shifting, green

smoke of nostalgia
for another life and I feel the weight
of his statement flex
slowly, pass through me
like an affliction, as I sit on my hands
in an effort
to straightjacket the body
with itself while outside the wind-

lashed beauty of a jet trail unzips
across a square of sky that has become, suddenly,
the most troublesome of colours, hiding
the black grasp of the infinite.

And it’s no wonder, really, that Narcissus fell
in love with his own reflection
when he saw himself thrown
into focus against the backdrop

of such a heaven. So. Deep, still
water was the heart’s first mirror,
then copper and onyx and ebony polished
to a shine. The Aztecs favoured obsidian.

Among animals, the eye is a mirror.
All it takes to focus sunlight
up through the slide held in place
on the microscope’s stage and through

the unreadable cullet of my own blood is one
coin-sized mirror.

III. Ransacking the Nave

Eve and Adam arrived
in pieces. Like offcuts, like
morsels. I think about the carefully
chosen thimble-sized tins
of Testors enamel, the array
of fine brushes. The competent hands.
The quick assembly. I am a girl,
of course, with a schoolgirl’s crush,
but I have seen his wife—not much
older than I am, so much
younger than he is. What is it, really,
that I am afraid of? She
makes me nervous. He
has an adult sadness—historic,
inherited. She
is a form of permission at a time
when every boy my age has an appetite
too large for his own vocabulary and hands
that try to make up for it
with the arse pinch and the bra strap grabbed
through the fabric of a blouse
and let snap. And here is Adam
with all his ribs; here is Eve
with the removable hatch
of her belly where her optional
pregnancy attaches like a limpet.
Where the placenta, now painted,
is a red leaf plastered
to a window. And here is the house
that contains the door
that was my entrance into this world.

IV. Ransacking the Nave: Redux

Imagine: arriving early to find his lab
unlocked and empty. Imagine
breaking open those bodies to steal
their static welter and crumble, their passive
gleam, their perfect rubble, and there,
in the right light, with every organ
below the diaphragm removed, there,
between the lungs’ twin duffels
of lapis blue and the sling
of the pelvis, between bone
and breath, imagine discovering
a sea cave of ambient glare, a familiar
fish-spine blue of distance. Imagine
believing that something that did not belong
to the body had entered the body.

V. “…to lose beauty in terror…”

Aggressive, cannibalistic, the larva
of the hairstreak contains

within it the directive to devour
such hungers and build

for itself underwings with a pang
of patinated copper, a tongue

like a watch spring; and so begin
a different life with a taste

for gorse and bird’s-foot trefoil which
all summer long flaunt blind

yellow throats of blossom. Nothing
escapes (not one of them escapes, no one

escapes) the open prisons
of beauty which are the flowers.

Older now than he was
then, I forgive him

for giving me metaphor and not answers.
I forgive him for giving me terror.

I forgive him his pity. I know,
now, how we must have seemed

to him as we leaned like leaves
towards the brilliance of knowledge:

how young we were! waiting
at that unlit opened door to life, in that time

before Time, minds still night
muscle, still swamp-rapt, still

reptilian black. Before the fall,
then, before the naming and the lament.

And don’t tell me that it could
have turned out any way but this. There was

no shirr of wings, no
floral ache of copper, no sea cave

of fish-spine light, no flux
of augury, no hint of a soul. No pantheon

of gods. No
god at all. Only

evolution’s indifferent logic, only beauty
manifesting as the perfection of function,

only Eve and Adam, clean
and passionless

as rain-washed stone. Only Time
with its blind throat

making the animal dance with terror
in the cage of a body caught

so completely between breath and bone, between
light and the mirror, sky

and reflection, tongue and blossom. I am,
I thought, the impulse of eternity

towards form. I am, I thought, nothing
but the impulse of eternity towards form.

I am void made solid. To be unmade.

NOTES: Section II “Bewilderment increases in the presence of the mirrors.” From The Boat in the Evening by Tarjei Vesaas.  Section V “…to lose beauty in terror…” From “Gerontion” by T.S Eliot

***

HORSES

We pass them being wheedled
and cajoled around small corrals, a confetti
of spit across each wide breast and the sweat
between their legs worried up into foam.
Their hooves flash in the dirt like polished bells.
We pass them as they sleep, standing up
among the dandelions and tasseled grasses
gone to seed. They enter our lives as fragments

of Eden, the place that has always been
our most difficult, elaborate dream.
And once seen—even from a freeway
when you’re doing sixty and aware of your peril—
it’s an effort of will to take your eyes from a horse
in a field. Grace is like that. No other animal

occupies its skin so precisely, or walks forward
so carefully, as if pushing through great hauls
of dark water, chest deep in the stiff current.
I don’t believe we are meant to think about death,

even on those evenings
when a thin mist rides on the fields and their hooves
waver beneath them like votive flames. A horse

becomes its own religion and myth: out from the dark
machinery of its body something better,
and more beautiful, is always about to begin;

and if you ever need proof that it’s good
to have a physical body, touching
a horse in this life is the closest you will get to it.

To catch grace off guard: a lone horse
dozing in a field, the long reach of its neck
presented to the world, its thick lower lip fallen
away from the fence of its teeth
and there, beguiling as god’s empty pocket,
pale skin of the inner mouth. Before you die
look into the eye of a horse at least once
and discover a cathedral lit
by a single candle. If the gods ever come down
to walk among us, this
is where they will live. And so
when a horse, seeing nothing about us

it can recognize, lowers its deep,
soft mouth to the grass and when that grass,
appearing wet in the sunlight, rises to greet it,
as if the lips of the dead were puckered skyward

for its kiss, it should be no surprise. How can we not
love an animal that spends so much of its life
with its mouth so close to the dirt. That they take,
with such tenderness, the mints
and the carrots we offer—as if the world

were ours to give—is the miracle; that they let us
xxxxxxxxxslip on the sky-blue halter and lead them
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthrough the cool of the evening.

***

LAMB

Saw a new creature’s first moments of thinking.
Felt the chill blowing through me.
— Michael Dennis Browne

I thought she was resting with her head against the fence
until I saw the wire, exact as a grass blade, pressed
against her open eye. Ravens will loot a body quickly
for its softest parts. She was newly dead; she was clean,
storm-washed. At the keyholes of the nostrils, those flies
the colour of ochre that follow the flocks all summer
and lay their eggs upon the shit in the fields.
I’ve watched ewes and lambs finding one another on the hillsides—
calling and answering and moving, always, toward the sound.
Her lamb in the field now on the pins of its legs, its tail
like a whisk, its mad rattle unanswered, bolting
from ewe to ewe and each ewe, in turn, lowering her head,
hooking it under the belly, lifting and pitching it away. Not mine.
Not mine. Not mine. Saw it looking around at the hills.
Saw it turning in circles. Saw myself
standing back, doing nothing. I took the track up and out
of the valley to where the wind devoured
the lamb’s monologue of panic; until the tragedy unpacking below
became part of the view—a detail in the story, not the whole story;
until the dead ewe was a white bag held against the fence
by the wind and her lamb a pale mote floating about the field.
The lake, the burnished water, a man with a black dog
in the reeds lining the river, gunshots, and ducks spitting skyward
like flung gravel. Even from a distance, suffering is suffering.
No mercy here. There was wind breasting through the surface
water of the lake; there was crisp grass with green light.
up its sleeves. There must have been sunlight but it was shadows
I noticed, small hauntings in the hills as the clouds slid past.

***

DEAD DRIFT

Water shelving off into darkness and the mind,
which accepts the river’s depth, is perplexed
by the eyes’ denial. Flat as shadow

on grass you lie, watching the mouth
of the net held close to the bank, waiting
for a wide-open, astonished eye, for a wedge
of head to cohere out of silt and present
itself, as all beings born into time
do, with defiance and out of matter
both moving and held
motionless in suspension. Then the quick

veer, the glint-thrill, the solid, flexed silm
of a body at the surface as it turns. After that,
the backwash, a sluggish roil, the vane of a tail

receding. Where was I, you think, before I
was suddenly here—cleaved cell, a gyre

of code unlocked? In the net’s uneasy
alchemy each brown trout
rests, finning in place, nose to the current,
until your father, who caught each fish and slipped
each hook and holds the net, submerges

its rim and decants each life back
into the flow of the river—not a fish, not a trout, no
namable shape—just a finned smear, a flare
of copper. Then nothing but your own reflection
restored to the water’s surface as the water
restores its mirror. Early evening, a sudden

coolness filming the skin and, as if
some marvelous army has placed its shield wall
to rest, canted sunlight falling
in blazons on the water. Here, for a while, before

humping north to face the tribes
of Caledonia, a small and weary detachment
from the Ninth Legion of Rome did
place their shields and their weapons down,
right here, on the banks of the Wharfe,
and named their settlement Calcaria, meaning
lime. The pale blocks of empire quarried, right here,
by slaves, on territory stolen from the Celtic tribes,
on the great north road to Eboracum.
But before all this—before the Brigantes

and Romans and Vikings and French, before flints
and axes and spear blades; before the age
of long barrows and dolmens; before the first
brattle of war and occupation and every
advance and obliteration of history, there was stone
and the stone’s own story of molluscs and forams
and corals. Evidence of oceans, of time’s
crushing indifference. Out in that river,

in chest-high waders, your father is loading
his rod for the cast; the loop of the line unfurls
and the fly—a Pale Evening Dun—settles
on a seam where two currents meet and

dead drifts to where eddies mark a trout
sipping mayfly from the surface. Not once
have you asked your father why, when he crimps
the barbs flat against the shank of every hook and files
them smooth and then releases
every fish he fights and fatigues and plays

into the net, he even fishes at all. Perhaps
it has something to do with how the fly
presents itself perfectly on the water; or the line,
a filament of sky come loose, unfurling. No, not the fly,
or the line, but his arm casting. No, not that: not

the casting, but the arm lifting, suddenly,
to set the hook. No not even the arm,
but the whole body reacting. A river
is a closed door that opens everywhere
and always and only into itself and in the long,
continuous lick of its current is a man
standing motionless, braced

for the strike. And before there was pigment,
before the first flute, before fire; and until all the hands
silhouetted in ochre, until the aurochs and ibex
and spotted horses walked out of the mind as the mind
unhooked itself from darkness,
there was this: the whole body reacting—animal,
instinctive. And after? Not the reaction,

but the seconds it took—not many, but one; no,
not even one, not the seconds at all,
but that fraction of unmeasurable time in which

whatever was about to be done
remained undone.

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