Nancy Krygowski's Velocity
reviewed by David Ayers
Start with a car. No, make it a bus. Make it a truck. Make it a bicycle. Now, add the the stars.
Add galaxies. Add a suitcase. Add underwear. Add trouble, danger.
Now you have some idea, hopefully, of what Nancy Krygowski is up to in
Velocity, her first full length collection, winner of the 2006
Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry prize. It's a heady read--one that you'll
probably want to finish in one sitting (and one that you probably will
finish in one sitting) but one that will reward close reading and follow-up as well.
The title poem is a great example of the combination of excitement and energy that goes into so many
of the poems in the book:
I was riding my bike
on a road in Georgia. Weeds
and ditches, trees, me and solitude,
the heat. I was 16, in love
The feeling that Krygowski relates here should be familiar to anyone who remembers adolescence--the thrill of starting out, the excitement of embarking on a journey, the transition into adulthood. That's not to say that this journey isn't without danger. In fact, the poem goes on to recount what must have been a pretty bad experience for the speaker. As she is riding along, a man in the seat of a passing truck reaches out and grabs her hair. She falls: "And then the crumple / that was me, the gravel / pitting my pure heat." This outcome was obviously unexpected, and it raises some troubling questions about the exact nature of her experience, exposing some of the darker things that are out there (including knowledge itself, which turns out to be "dark as speed, hard / as free.").
There are other things to like, too, in Krygowski's book. First of all, the everyday nature of the poems,
their groundedness, give them a girl-next-door quality (or a boy-next-door quality) which makes the voice
rather inviting and familiar--almost intimate, at times. There is a frankness and candor about this though, that is a bit unusual. In "I Get Happy When I Shudder," for example, we see Kyrgowski happily ruminating on a "truck full of cows / going off to slaughter"--imagining what they feel and where they'll go, and what will become of them afterwards. "[W]hat happens to the fur?" she asks. "(It swings as a purse / from a woman's clean hand.)" She goes on to conclude the piece with an even more striking set of images:
This is pure lie, as is
my choice to ignore the pure beauty
of the dried-up bull scrotum--
a thick and wrinkled rose--
swaying soundless and guilty
beside the bell.
Krygowski's candor extends to other areas of the imagination as well--particularly the sexual. Several poems in the collection deal specifically with sex, the sex act, and its aftermath. Some, like "Control," are rather explicit in their descriptions:
I pulled on the tight black slip, the already ripped
hose, lipstick called Blood, told him how I'd leave
the red of those lips on his beautiful dick. I told him--
Mike, I said--imagine the tight circle they'll make.
In the next line the speaker explains, "I wanted to feel unburdened of the mind's hurts," and we see that the sex in the poem isn't gratuitous. It's part of the speaker's identity, part of who she is, and understanding it is vital to understanding the poem. The piece ends rather tellingly:
I like it from behind / I like the small pain /
I like the stopping of time / the shoving of my ass /
I like having to ask, Who is this man? Who is this man?
As the speaker of an earlier poem says, "I am not supposed to be honest, but I can't remember how to lie." That is one of the remarkable things about Velocity--that it doesn't lie. The truth that it has to relate is quite powerful.