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Recommendation – “Pictures of the Afterlife,” Jude Nutter

What first struck me about Jude Nutter was the brutal force with which her words hit readers.  Her Pictures of the Afterlife is extremely remarkable in the way that she approaches the subject of death.  Nutter hits it from all kinds of angles, none of which she allows you to gloss over or ignore.  My favorite part of Nutter’s works is the way she carefully chooses her wording, putting together phrases and words that I am just profoundly jealous of.  In the opening of “Raising the Dead with Words,” she writes

“They were rabbits mostly, gathered up from mud

and road grit where they’d come to rest, bodies kissed open,

their fur licked flat by the concussion of passing traffic…”

Despite the macabre tones and subject matter, Nutter manages to make the scene almost ethereal.  Her imagery is so vivid, I feel as if her words are jack hammering my brain from the page itself.  Nutter’s poetry is full of jarring figures like rabbits’ “bodies kissed open” that beg to be appreciated for the chilling beauty they create.  I loved the way she juxtaposed seemingly optimistic words like “kissed” with such dark imagery as well as the way she made the traffic itself, ironically, come alive by saying it “licked” the fur of the (now) dead animals.

After the initial onslaught of Nutter’s diction, I also saw how she approached a single subject, the afterlife, from so many different ways, ranging from the dying, to the deceased, to memorials, hospitals, and more.  Each carefully crafted poem moves further into the questions and philosophies behind death, yet in a way that doesn’t leave me depressed, but rather impressed at her take on it.  While the subject of death can be overwrought with clichés and melodrama, Nutter’s approach is darkly fresh and provoking.  In “Hermes Delivers Flowers to the Hospice” –

”           …Even though at birth

you were lost already, borne into debt.

Maybe the grave is the only

door that leads you anywhere,

but how would you know…”

Nutter refuses to shy away from topics, as can be seen simply by her poems’ titles – “Abortion as Ecstasy,” “Suicide Notes at the End of Summer,” “Aunt Alice’s Ashes.”  Nutter delves into the question that is death and bereavement without losing the audience to overly philosophical or existential ramblings, as she does in “The Blue Balloon;”

”           …Which is more difficult: to believe

in the soul, or admit you have a body.  This

is the only question there is; it will enter

your life any way it can

and when you ask it the dead will hand you

the remains of their deepest work.”

Her figures are also notable.  In “Atomic Nightmare,” she writes: “the rind of an apple peeled off // and flung on the table in a continuous strip / like a green banner; the smell light makes / when it hits water…”  Nutter takes unusual images, like the smell of water, and incorporates these enchanting figures within the darker structure of her poems, but in a way that doesn’t make them awkward or stand out, but weaves them intricately into them, transitioning real life images of a family member at a hospital with things like the apple peel banner.

I would recommend this (and her other collection, The Curator of Silence) to anyone who admires a darker set of poetry loaded with thick, penetrable diction that seriously just bombards you the second you open the book.

– Ellie

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