Normal Distance

Reading Normal Distance from poet, essayist and critic Elisa Gabbert (The Unreality of Memory; The Word Pretty; The Self Unstable) is like overhearing one side of a conversation conducted by a brilliant and intimate friend. There is no affectation and no aspect of performance, but the way the full range of Gabbert's curiosity and intellect can be so easily accessed somehow feels like a magic act. Each of the 35 poems in this collection is made up of prose-like lines, some that meander and others that slice the air with near-painful precision. Like jotted lines in a commonplace book or a Notes app--but sharper and more prescient--the genuine wonder of it all is not diluted by its ordinariness.

Most of the poems rely heavily on the first-person voice, as in "Wild Animals (Normal Distance)": "I think a little threat is necessary for happiness./ I think sometimes we want to be threatened, sometimes/ we want to be the threat./ Sometimes when I'm standing what feels like a normal/ distance from a person, they keep seeming to edge away." A few lines later Gabbert writes, "I'm trying to decide if Wittgenstein was sexy. It's not/ obvious./ I think the answer is 'yes' or 'unanswerable.'/ I think delicate people are frightening./ But I also think fear is erotic." Each line is delivered with the same frank tone, simultaneously vulnerable and detached, and each builds on the next, ultimately creating a collection that defies logic and insists on praise. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

Powered by: Xtenit