NERVE CHORUS, SPD BESTSELLER & SPD RECOMMENDED
These nimble poems grapple with what it means to belong to a body, a family, a country. With rigor and dark wit, Carroll conjures the exhilarating terror of moving through one’s life with nothing but “flesh holding / back disaster.”
Here is a miraculous poet made of music. She writes what the world needs to hear—what I needed to hear. She takes on our greatest mysteries and inheritances: love, desire, loss, family, activism, art, justice— and every poem changes the air we breathe. This debut reworks the mind as it breaks the heart with its beauty. To be fully alive, in the face of devastation, grief, and longing, a poet must make a song that could be eternal. Willa Carroll is fearless in the face of that challenge. Her music deserves to be sung everywhere—in the church of our earth, in the peace between lovers, in the halls of our learning, in the quiet places of illness and death and mourning. Hers is an art of perpetuity, and she is a genius whose words I hold my breath to hear more clearly.
As we speak or sing, the tongue dances in a hot wet auditorium momentarily lit. Half public, half private, this book maps the body in lingual movements that accrete and erupt out of stasis, striking choral resonances, transmuting personal/local histories, straddling the elegant and the repugnant. Here is a force to be reckoned with, a memorable debut.
This debut spotlights body, self, family, and society while interrogating brutal inequalities. The visceral poems take on gender, class, race, war, gun violence, and capitalistic greed. Facing a young girl’s violation and a father’s fatal asbestos exposure, the poems move between loss and resilience with urgency and invention. A chorus of artists and pop-culture heroes appear in unexpected cameos as nerve signifies the crackling mind, the high-heat metaphor, and a bright ambush of language.
Willa Carroll was an experimental dancer and actor before turning to poetry, and many of the poems of her remarkable debut collection, Nerve Chorus, revolve around performance and the body. Her work reminds us that much of our experience transcends our verbal abilities. With personal subject matter and elegant, yet accessible, philosophical explorations, Carroll succeeds in maintaining a strong tonal unity and distinct lyricism. Like experimental dance, these poems invite a visceral experience. Meanwhile, they should be admired for their lyrical flexibility, the exactness of their imagery, their life-affirming quality, as well as their intellectual engagement. Though this is her first collection, Carroll’s poems have garnered attention for some time. She won Tupelo Quarterly’s TQ7 Prize for her poem “Chorus of Omissions,” and her piece “No Final Curtain” won First Place in Narrative Magazine’s Third Annual Poetry Contest.
This is one of the bravest collections of poetry I’ve come across, and its themes connecting back to power and the body make it an important read for our time. Several times, breathtaking music and wordplay allow both poet and reader to enter additional narratives related to other layers of violence and power, such as our national Me, Too movement, or shootings that leave us grappling with the sudden disappearance of friends and acquaintances. . . . This is one of the bravest collections of poetry I’ve come across, and its themes connecting back to power and the body make it an important read for our time.
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It is a cleansing—a heartbreaking—exercise to try to unsee the seen and undo the done. In “Chorus of Excisions,” Carroll works with clean imperative strokes, revealing the outline of what is desired by paring away the great botch of our greedy endeavors. “Requiem for a Millennium,” meanwhile, conjures the movements of a Butoh dance, reading in them vivid associations of destruction and possible hopes of redemption.
—Sven Birkerts, AGNI Editor