Dec 17 2021
Poetry review – BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LOSS IN THE MULTIVERSE: Charles Rammelkamp studies Claudine Nash‘s sympathetic and light-touch guide to coping with bereavement
Beginner’s Guide to Loss in the Multiverse Claudine Nash Blue Light Press, 2021 ISBN: 978-1421836690 72 pages $15.95
It’s clear from the very title of Claudine Nash’s Blue Light Press Book Award-winning collection that she has a subtle sense of humor. The title, of course, plays on Douglas Adams’ whimsical comedy science fiction classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But loss is also at the center of this collection, and loss is never funny. It’s the attitude that counts, the perspective! While not necessarily a “how-to / self-help” book, Beginner’s Guide to Loss in the Multiverse weaves emotions throughout a fragmented reality that combines “possible” and “real” in a narrative of wish-fulfillment, fully acknowledging longing but never dwelling in self-pity. Beginner’s Guide to Loss in the Multiverse is, indeed, a sensitive love song.
Each of the thirty-two poems in this book is located in a different numbered universe – one of them, “Unlike Here, Universe 12,146,091,” even requiring up into eight digits! The collection begins in #415. “Beginner’s Guide to Loss in the Multiverse, Universe 415” orients us to the situation:
I accept this challenge of surrendering all of you, every notion of us that could exist in some other time or space…
While the “story” remains abstract, almost theoretical, the sensuality is always immediate, visceral, as in “Pretend that You are Talking Universe 3,082,018”:
You can bring your lips near and let the dark slip into my ear.
Nash writes in clear, short lines, often just a word or two long. The effect is like slipping a needle into the reader’s eye, heart, putting such emphasis on individual words. (Has “into my” ever been more erotic?) The penultimate poem of the first of the four parts into which these poems are divided, “Worse Off Universe 12,147,046,” includes these lines that almost make the longing manifest, a pulsing throb:
I know there are worse things in the world than wanting you this way….
And the final poem in the first section? Reading it, we “get” the sly humor that underlies Nash’s tone throughout, undercutting any hint of self-absorbed misery. The images are still so very sensuous, but the suggestion of space-fantasy aliens is vivid and amusing.
When we lie down in what looks like grass you braid my hair or tentacles, I run my lips along your forehead, the arcs of each of your six eyebrows.
The short second part of Beginner’s Guide to Loss in the Multiverse is called “Magnolias,” containing just four poems, “Magnolias Universe 1,071,” “Magnolias Universe 1,072,” “Magnolias Universe 1,073,” and “Magnolias Universe 1,074.” Nash uses the magnolia – a landscape of magnolias – as a potent symbol of love. “Magnolias Universe 1,072” spells it out:
I look at you and at once all the gaps and restless spaces in me settle into this landscape, I drift home wrapped in a blanket of magnolias
The final two sections of the book are rooted in memory. “Entanglement” is the title of the third part, including two poems with that title, “Entanglement Universe 191,177” and “Entanglement Universe 191,178.” In the prose poem called “Gut Instinct” Nash writes:
Perhaps an entangled particle settles onto the tip of your finger and you touch a trace of a moment you’ve seen somewhere else or you converse with a stranger in a tea shop and you know at once you’ve swapped blends with a kindred spirit. Imagine if you perceived that same insistent murmur the day I weighed the space between your arms and my torso swore “this, this is where I fit.
The final section, “A Stunning Matter,” begins with the poem, “The Making of Memory Universe 101,177,” and already the situation starts to feel “retrospective,” but then, since we’re always dealing with parallel universes here, in which time is not necessarily continuous, each moment discrete, disconnected, is anything really in the rearview? But still, it all feels “settled” now, in some way.
Nash’s sense of humor comes out again in “How I Lost All Interest in Telekinesis Universe 2,013,051.” The poem ends:
I’m starting to think this telekinetic, parapsychological phenomenon is a pseudoscientific myth, because if I had any real remote mental influence, with all my wishing and wanting and directed conscious intent, you should have popped in aeons ago.
“How Not to Flirt in the Multiverse Universe 771,199,” which follows, continues to bring a smile. This poem ends:
Though seriously, all I really want from you is “yes” or “now” or alternatively just a plain old “infinite” will more than likely do.
Beginner’s Guide to Loss in the Multiverse is at once tender and speculative, not actually “heartbreaking,” even as it deals with a broken heart; the reader is more sympathetic than pitying, for sure, charmed by Nash’s humor. Face it, when it comes to loss, we’re all rank beginners.