Dearest Water
Poems by Nancy Takacs
poems 44 ~ 79 pages
Price: $19.95 + S & H
Publisher: Mayapple Press
ISBN: 978-1-952781-09-4
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

In one of Wallace Stevens’ lesser known and underappreciated poems, “Poetry is a Destruc-tive Force,” we find these lines:

         That’s what misery is
         Nothing to have at heart.
         It is to have or nothing.

         It is a thing to have,
         A lion, an ox in his breast,
         To feel it breathing there.

After reading Nancy Takacs’ latest collection, Dearest Water, I’m struck by the force and wisdom in her work. Poetry is a lion, an ox in her breast.

Dearest Water is structured in four divisions: 1) Poems for Women Only, 2) Wildness, 3) Invisible Jewels, and 4) Notes to God from County Road H.

Each division, in its own way, bears witness to the lion and the ox. Poetry, for Stevens, carries with it the power to change people. Indeed the power to change the way things are. While only the poet knows, with certitude, whether she concurs, the idea resonates with this reviewer.

A Word About Style

Nancy Takacs writes in free verse. Her poems are structured in couplets, tercets, quatrains, and logical paragraph breaks. A nice variety of presentation. She does not force-rhyme. When rhymes or half-rhymes occur, they are occasional enhancements applied to what she is doing.

Takacs is a student of the natural world. Flora and fauna inhabit her work. Within this broad category, I found animals, birds, bees, trees, canyons, colors, fishes, and ghosts. Her poems are replete with emotional resonance born from an abundant storehouse of memories and experiences.

Poems for Women Only

Dare I say that the poems in this section are vitamins and minerals for men? Take for example her short poem, “Making Up”:

         is like the first pickle from a mason jar,
         raspberry jam in the tapioca. My husband
         speaks to me for the first time after our
         argument that shimmered with hooves.
         Now his voice is all hallowed and velour.
         Now my voice is hazy and mango. We halt
         our sorrows for now. We go out to the tulips
         and have a cookie. I put on my magenta
         sweatshirt. Her dusky sky has one tamp of bitter.
         Holding a hand can be like a hornet in a balloon.
         It takes two hours for our toes to get drowsy.


This section illumines the poet’s concern for animals, the environment and social justice. Love is pervasive within her environmental concerns.

“Wolverine” is a case in point:

         I’m kind of a loner like you, skunk-bear,
         but way too soft, lounging
         on my futon with a paperback
         on my breast, digesting tasty
         memories of Proust.
         … …

         Wolverine, I’ve leaned
         into creeks for watercress,
         picked the raspberries
         bears have been in,
         looked into the eyes
         of great horned owls,
         glimpsed the bear, the fox.
         … …

         Humans call you terrible,
         caribou-hound, bone-crusher,
         tooth-eater. Trappers wait for you,
         snowmobilers spin across your space.
         I hope you’re still running and running,
         hunting and hunting somewhere
         wide and cold enough for you.

In the same poem she avers, I should have let the wild be wild. This after making friends with and even feeding several wild creatures. Indeed, “wild” is pervasive in Takacs’ work. Her advocacy is multiplied through poetic craftsmanship. She is able to take a step back, harness her emotions, weaving high art into environmental concerns.

Invisible Jewels

Upon encountering this section, I asked myself: What is the meaning of this section title? How can a jewel (something palpable) be invisible?

As I pondered this, I noticed a tonal change within the poems themselves; a loosening of the poet’s diction. The poems took on an aura of simplicity. They became like well-seasoned entrées. “What My Dog Knows,” begins to pull the curtain back on how “ordinary things” become “invisible jewels”:

         is how the smell of shampoo
         means I’m going out,
         and the blow dryer
         means without her.

         She still asks
         with her butterfly ears
         wide open.

         She is pine-scented
         from yesterday’s bath,
         brushed, ready
         to go if I want her,

         trot to the lake and roll
         in something rotten
         as soon as I turn my back.

         She’s small but loves to bark
         at all the big dogs in the park,
         slip her collar
         and lunge for their throats.

         If I would only
         take her,
         And let her.

Notes to God from County Road H

The lead poem, “Drought” is akin to prayer. In 16 poems of varying length, Takacs lifts her voice to God about the way things are in life. I’ve done the same thing myself. This poet raises her voice much better than me, however!

She invites her readers to walk with her “where oceans of stars / once fell into orbit, / and rolled up on the shore / of the skies, …” This wide-ranging series serves as catharsis for Takacs. The outer visible world speaks to that which is invisible within her heart … hope within the reality of drought. Look for signs that drought may be multi-dimensional in the poet’s mind.

I led with a reference to a poem by Wallace Stevens. These lines from the same poem, seem a fitting closure to this excellent collection:

         He [poetry] is like a man
         In the body of a violent beast.
         Its muscles are his own …

         The lion sleeps in the sun.
         Its nose is on its paws.
         It can kill a man.


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