Niki Nymark’s poems are vivid, varied


A Stranger Here Myself, a collection of poems by Niki Nymark, published as part of the Missouri Women Poets Series from Cherry Pic Press, offers a vivid and varied selection of subjects and sensibilities. Nymark is perceptive and humorous, a poet whose first offering in this splendid collection is titled In Praise of Prose, in which she compares the dull safety of prose to the excitement of the poetic form:

Forsake poetry

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Prose is better

more dependable.

less dangerous,

like that nice boy

your parents hoped

you’d marry

Poetry is the one

you’d climb

out the window

to meet at midnight

In the above little gem, Nymark differentiates the choices we make between the warm hearth of a secure home and the fiery furnace of unpredictable passion with those few lines, while Woody Allen and Philip Roth require an entire film or a whole novel to do the same. So it is with the entire collection, whether Nymark is expressing her deep love for an intimate life partner, or recalling the adventure of relatively mild misbehavior as a child, she uses just a few brush strokes to paint verbal pictures that are by turns poignant, thought-provoking, sweet, ironic and often very funny.

The intimacy of a loving couple is evocatively expressed in Morning Love which is spare in verbiage but rich in texture and expressiveness:

Bring wine,

Bring roses,

share my cup,

share my bed,

kiss my breasts,

let me kiss your head

Later we lie, toes

tender touching,

my ear on your heart

hears its sweet beating

We watch the shadows

of leaves, of rain

move across the ceiling

Again, with just a few well-chosen words and lines, Nymark covers the entire range of a loving couple in their moments together, combining tenderness, eroticism, and the secure closeness of a committed relationship. Morning Love has the quality of serenity and peacefulness which are associated with Shabbat, a day in which we are encouraged to express our closeness to loved ones.

Another kind of intimacy, that which one feels with a long-term and trusted friend, one with whom one shares a special sense of humor, what the French call a folie á deux, “foolishness between two people,” or a “madness of two” is expressed sharply in For Moishe — as follows:

What we have found,

seventh decade love,

on the phone at night

telling jokes so old

no one else would laugh,

the Laurel and Hardy of ecstasy.

I slip on a banana peel;

you catch me in your arms.

Those who know Nymark personally, appreciate not only her intellect and professionalism and her ability to work with people of all ages, with colleagues and friends, but also her terrific sense of humor, which literally shines through her words.

Another, longer poem in this collection describes the complex feelings we have for close relatives, those we lose and those who survive them, in My Story, which reads:

Aunt Min tells it:

My grandma, Toba Hinda,

pillaged her bedroom

the night she died,

to find the gold band

Meyer gave her

in 1904.

Thin, deaf and sharp

as a rose quartz crystal,

she slipped it on her

elegant hand

and died.

Not like her, I thought,

when I heard the story,

Grandma was pragmatic,

didn’t believe in an afterlife,

“When you’re gone, you’re gone,”

she’d say

Aunt Min, on the other hand,

could paint her mother for us

like a Picasso.

Foolishly, I think

my life is my own,

but know

my children

will reinvent me, after.

Thus with a few lines, Nymark can “reinvent” special moments from her own experience for us, can “paint” with her words “like a Picasso.” With bold brush strokes, sharply visible lines and vivid colors, Nymark is a modernist poet of the first rank, and her collection, A Stranger Here Myself should have a place on the shelf of any serious reader of excellent poetry.