Poems to an Imaginary Friend: On Collier Nogues and David Hernandez

Stood in line with all variety of art lovers for the Richard Diebenkorn show at OC Museum of Art last Sunday, a long line, eager fans, and admission free that morning. We are meant to understand that RD's work is elaborate construction, puzzling out of forms, and that living in Ocean Park, CA has less to do with the bright color and rectangular composition, but of course his amazing, complex multi-dimensional canvasses were not painted in Bismarck, North Dakota​ or East Timor. They struck me all week as less narrative than verse, so that I count it serendipitous to have been reading poets at the same time, and those for whom some of life happens in our own county of Orange, of all places, studying and teaching and listening and thinking while composing here. Imagine!

One such poet is Collier Nogues. Here she is, smiling. It's a lovely, generous smile perhaps because Nogues has a lot to be happy about, and yet unhappy, too. Happy because her collection, On the Other Sid​e, Blue is a remarkable book and because she is so blue, by which we mean so thoughtfully, carefully, whimsically and syntactically immersed in the color and apprehension and purposeful noticing of experience. The work here is whatever the opposite of introspective is, perhaps outrospective? Which is to say that the place of the line in her short, intense poems is a place to linger, to go back to after reading the poem the first time. In poems recalling, summoning her dead mother to considering broken and tender love, it is in the short line arranged nearly as epigram, as caption of scenes, with the killer line:

"Once a plane goes down, the cause is something else,

      head of a harbor seal to the airport
      was without a permit to carry
      such a thing. To carry such a thing
      his head was somewhere else
      besides the mantel of his shoulders.
      elsewhere is where his head was
      like the head of the seal he carried..."

And so on, messing around formally with the premise, and messing with, for sure, our heads, and finding a way to confront the biologist, the seal, his own poet's head game.

​So who knows what artists and poets can be thinking when they write and paint and otherwise make up their minds about the rest of us. Or where they might be doing it. It is as if, finally, they are writing to the possibility of all of us, as well as the us of us. Thanks for that! 

Next month, April, is National Poetry Month.  

​Here's a reminder, not to mention two recommendations, toward celebrating.  Don't say I never gave you anything.

On the Other Side, Blue, Collier Nogues, Four Way Books, 80 pp., $15.95
Hoodwinked, David Hernandez, Sarabande, 71 pp., $14.95

Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio, on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.

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