Noelle Kocot, The Bigger World
Publisher: Wave Books
2011, 78 pages, paperback, $16
noelle kocot’s fifth book of poetry, The Bigger World, is a series of ironies. The first poem is titled “God Bless the Child,” yet the first line is, “Horatia hated children.” Kocot’s ironies, however, seem to be placed with specific intent. She continues this first poem, writing, “Then Horatia became / Pregnant and gave birth to a full- / Grown man.” In this way, Kocot uses the character of Horatia to highlight the role of nature. There is a disconnection by this particular character to an intimate part of living, and yet, nature asserts its right.
Kocot also skips any mention of baby or childhood and presents the image of a full-grown man, as though she is getting to the heart of a matter. She then closes any gap in the reader’s suspended belief of a man-child by having the son aptly explain:
‘Mother, I do believe that you never
Once allowed me to be a child,
But I forgive you, seeing as how you
Were never really a child yourself.’
Immediately, we understand that Kocot dismisses any need to ground the reader in realism in order to identify certain unusual insights about life. She celebrates simplicity by refusing to allow this particular poem a grand exit and, instead, substitutes a harmonious departure as the son and mother walked “Silently on, not out of the flames / Or anything, but just walked on.”
Kocot presents the reader with many fantastic scenarios in this collection. She infuses off-the-wall comedic humor with odd imagery, disjointed realism, and mythic adventure. In “Noneness,” a title which is also a play on words, Kocot writes:
Seymour left the beach and traveled
Down a dirt road. He met a naked
Nun, and said, ‘Hey, what kind of
Dominoes are you slicing?’ The nun
Was solemn, even though she was
Naked. She proceeded to sing
A tortured love song about her husband,
Who died before she entered the convent.
Seymour was bored. He wished
The nun was not a nun, but merely
A naked woman without nun-ness.
Here, Kocot surprises the reader. Seymour’s boredom seems reflective of a human impatience with the unusual or with anything that requires more than a superficial engagement.
Kocot then infuses more of the fantastical when she writes:
A bird with one
Leg stopped for coffee,
Afterward, the bird says,
Drifting toward, drifting away from,
Instead of supplying Seymour with great insight, Kocot supplies the bird with a great sense of eternity. These techniques seem to be the way that Kocot provides her readers with glimpses of universal truth. At the end of “Noneness,” Kocot provides another kernel for contemplation when she writes:
The nun crawled
Off somewhere and died, and when
Her body was found, all anyone knew
About her was that she was a naked
Kocot has effectively stripped oddities down to essentials. We are, after all, human. We are, after all, simply bone, and skin, and hair. We are, really, all naked beneath the details of our lives.
This is another style that Kocot frequently employs in this collection of poems. And the characters she creates often have only a precursory introduction of sorts. They are introduced by way of one small detail or a line of dialogue, as though Kocot wants us immediately to greet the character and then look beyond to something greater. For example, in one of the poems titled “Homage,” Kocot introduces a man simply by way of saying, “Rick was a polyamorous shaman, / Who moonlighted as a detective.”
The poems are short, too, generally one page and one strophe, with seemingly little attention to meter or line break. This style doesn’t take away from but doesn’t necessarily add to the emphasis of the lines. It is as though Kocot is indicating that lyricism is not the point, and she focuses on the more unusual aspects of humanity.
These unusual aspects of humanity are not myths, as in the manner of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; but Kocot’s titles, such as “Pandora,” “Persepolis,” and “Pharaoh,” allude to ancient ruins or myth stories or old worlds now gone. With the poems in this collection, the reader shouldn’t expect concise chronology. It is more like we have been dropped into the rabbit’s hole where time and sequence are warped.
In “On Becoming a Person,” Kocot identifies the hidden motivations of Self when she writes, “[Bruno’s] self had other plans, / Unbeknownst to Bruno.” Then she writes, “His self suddenly became angry….” Kocot shows that much of life occurs without full acknowledgement or understanding of motivation. She writes as if we have all been placed into one section of a much larger dialogue. In a way, this collection indulges the voyeurism of today’s society by doing this; it is as though we are reading overheard conversations along street cafes, or snippets that, like finding a thread, seem to lead to some great covering.
Some of the comedic oddity, at times, affects the reader’s ability to grapple with any greater meaning (if greater meaning is intended). There is also a maneuvered carelessness, orchestrated it seems, as a way to express expansive images and blanket statements, like in “Welcome Mat,” when she writes, “A white pigeon flew / Off somewhere.”
And while Kocot’s ideas are expansive, the beginning of each line is somewhat routine, because every first word is capitalized. Like the non-meter and non-specific line breaks, the consistent capitalization doesn’t exactly detract from the collection, nor does it add. In fact, in some places, it causes the reader to pause and reread so as to properly acknowledge a continuous line rather than a new thought.
It will be interesting to see what comes next. In this collection, the reader is provided with insights into human behavior and motivation, and universal truth, all wrapped within an odd and quirky coat of imagery. Kocot is giving us the gift of the unusual, but she is also giving us the gift of insight.