Monday, July 16, 2018

The Price of Scarlet — Brianna Noll (University Press of Kentucky)

Today's book of poetry:
The Price of Scarlet.  Brianna Noll.  University Press of Kentucky.  Lexington, Kentucky.  2017.

Sometimes, and today is one of those times, Today's book of poetry can tell if someone can and will, burn.  Instantly.

Brianna Noll is in robust and refined territory with Today's book of poetry.  We're lucky to have a front row seat.

Today's book of poetry discovered early on that it didn't matter what Noll was writing about, we were in, hooked, ready to read every word and follow her wherever she cared to go.  We were never disappointed.  The Price of Scarlet doesn't sneak up on the reader as much as it swallows the reader whole, pushes us out at the other end, more erudite than upon entrance.

What poems!  Today's book of poetry is reluctant to use the much overused exclamation mark, but Noll demands it!  Why on earth would Today's book of poetry ever care about the lives of fighting crickets?  Why, because if Noll cares, I care.  And so on.

Flavor Is the Price of Scarlet

Color pours from the life
of things—scarlet dripping
from the skins of apples;
a field of lavender, seeping.
When we talk of a color's
richness, what we mean
is its worth. Capital
has always been a figment
with value, and in this we see
its excess. We are told:
everything is made.
Taste, like color, is something
we cultivate. We prune trees
before they're matured
because this stunting
produces the best fruit.
When they're full-grown,
they're no longer trying
to prove themselves, to reach
the source of light.
You cannot make optimism
work for you—nothing
perfect comes of chance.
These are the instructions
we were given. We abide
the best we can, making
value, making demand.
Then we watch the skies.
When the persimmons glow
wildly on moonless nights,
you know they're ripe—
worth the price of their hue,
a carefully cultivated bronze.


One of the very good things about Brianna Noll's The Price of Scarlet is that Noll has no doubt.  There's a certainty in every poem, whether she is investigating the nature of the wind or invoking the Kraken from the deep.

This is a remarkable first book of poems.  From the first poem to the last these solid poems feel polished to a fine gloss.  

Noll is an observational poet much of the time.  She takes it in, dismantles where needed and then reforms the story of what we believed to be true.

Noll's pursuits are esoteric, to be sure, but the resulting poems are universal.  Noll is visceral without stooping to the grandstand.

On Social Graces

When I say
you're laced
with bitterness,
I mean it
as a compliment,
your distaste
for formality
some ruggedness
to temper what
might otherwise
cloy. This is why
we salt icing.
There's some good
in a hint of rain—
the metallic
smell, the sky
threaded with gray.


Our morning read here at Blast Furnace Boulevard and Centre of the Sun Crescent, formerly known as the Today's book of poetry offices was tempered by the clinking of glasses.  Our newest intern, Maggie, who has been good for at least one shocking moment a day, did just that when she arrived this morning with labelled thermoses.  One for each of us.

It was only eleven a.m. in the third circle of hell of our inferno like habitat but we all knew it was noon somewhere else.  My thermos, bless Maggie's industrious and well-researched intentions, was filled with Pink Lemonade and a healthy portion of Beefeater Gin.  Max came bustling out of his office the instant he heard ice hitting the side of a glass, he's honed into the network of the clink.  He wouldn't say what Maggie put in his thermos but he damned sure liked it, he was quite clear about the odds of his sharing.  Clearly Maggie is Max's new best friend.

Don't know what how Maggie got it out of Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, but I'm pretty sure her thermos is filled with Southern Comfort and Amaretto, in equal measure.  With ice.  Where I come from it is called a Sicilian Kiss.

So, the start of our morning read was rather splendid, if not a little animated.  Brianna Noll's excellent The Price of Scarlet gave each of us beautiful ammunition.  But by the time we got to the second round of the reading a few of my office compatriots seemed to be nearing that early afternoon nap phase.  Milo, our head tech, stretched out on the office couch like some Hobbesian stuffed tiger, and at that point we called it a day.  Not sure what Milo had in his thermos but when he nodded off I took a look.  Not a drop of evidence left.

The Price of Scarlet had elevated all our moods with a mixture of humour, intelligence and grace.  It was our wicked intern Maggie who hijacked today's show.  She'll be dealt with in the proper fashion soonish, anon, later.

Sometimes, We Think of Our Place in the World

Sweet machine, you
electrify the night—
the planets whir
with the noise
of your churning.
And when volcanoes
erupt on the West
Coast of America or
into the Sea of Japan,
you beautify them
with magma thunder-
storms, which make us
think of Mars, the god
and the planet—an electric,
unified whole. We are
drawn to your charge—
and, I think, we are
your charge. If we
were to write palm-
of-the-hand stories across
our palmist's lines and
thatches, we'd say,
The secret machine thrills
the air like the blades
of a helicopter, or 
In the end, we'll think 
of snow drifting, little
helium balloons.
We imagine whole
galaxies radiate
from our chests and
extremities, and we'll
write what we believe
to be true. This
is your influence—
we want to be gorgeous
little moments, too.


Today's book of poetry apologizes for going off the rails instead of summarizing Brianna Noll's powerful book of poems.  We can tell you that Today's book of poetry found these poems invigorating and bountiful.  

Read The Price of Scarlet, it will intoxicate you.

Image result for brianna noll photo

Brianna Noll

Brianna Noll is a postdoctoral fellow in teaching and mentoring in the Honors College at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2013, she helped found the literary magazine, The Account: A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Thought, for which she serves as poetry editor. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including the Georgia Review, 32 Poems, the Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, Puerto del Sol, and Salt Hill.

Brianna Noll’s vivid, haunting collection contains poetry wide-ranging and deep, with a brilliance reminiscent of Marianne Moore, and a similar interest in creation.
     -- Lisa Williams, author of Women Reading to the Sea and Gazelle in the House

Brianna Noll is on the find-out committee. Like an Emily Dickinson for the twenty-first century, she rules out nothing. These quiet, powerful poems tells us that the world is connected, that all we need to see those connections is what Noll has in abundance: openness, patience, and an eye for beauty. 
-- David Kirby, author of Get Up, Please

Brianna Noll
 reading for the Women Write Resistance anthology
 at the Book Cellar in Chicago on March 7, 2014.


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