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Nocturne Trio by Metta Sáma

I’d been participating in conversations about what it means to be a woman who writes or to identify as a woman or with women in one’s work when I clicked to open Metta Sáma’s webBook, Nocturne Trio (YesYes Books, 2012), and was met with:

Cleavage itself is not a punishable
offense say it name it

This affirmation, this invitation to vulnerability and exposure, and a command to “name it” sit adjacent to a painting of a dark figure straddling the back of a bare-breasted creature with the head of (what I presume to be) a woman semi-attached. This first in the series of poetic vignettes that make up Nocturne Trio effectively introduces a poetry collection that goes beyond naming and incorporates the gorgeous artwork of artist Mihret Dawit in a unique electronic format to create a rich, sensory experience.

Soon after, the line, “a cliché flies in front of me” introduces a self who struggles to name or give language to desire.

seven sisters are visible tonight language every night his
eyes unlike language I imagine a stranger holds a gun to
my head and on I drive through the snowy roads on up
that lowly hill

When I saw “nocturne” in the book’s title, I hoped for love and darkness, and this book delivered. Driven by desires that feel dangerous and unavoidable, the speaker/self in these poems provides a vessel for emotional evolution. This evolution occurs through this self’s introspections concerning lovers, the self seeing the self, the self in despair, the self seeing the self being seen.

Throughout Nocturne Trio, this self operates in liminal space, which Jane Hirshfield in her essay “Writing and the Threshold Life” describes as a condition where “a person leaves behind his or her old identity and dwells in a threshold of ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy” (203), as evidenced in the borderlessness of this self’s love and desires:

I hunger for you & then you Yes

I only want to say yes to you & then you or first
you & you or perhaps in the best of the sickled
night sky yes to you each simultaneously yes love

The poems also seem to show an awareness of the book’s internet-based format and are not afraid to name technology’s role in relationships. From “he’s still there, tweeting & tweeting & retweeting” to “All day, the computer projects voices voices voices,” these poems illuminate how the computer can be a device of torture when it comes to love and relationships. I wondered if the presumption existed that the reader might be aware of this too as the book can only be accessed through electronic devices.

Nocturne Trio’s pages are literally canvases. This means that there are more artistic elements to consider when considering this work. The fact that the artwork early in the book reappears in later sections, at times deconstructed or reconstructed, added a layer of depth and complexity. Though I couldn’t be sure if I was reading too much into the connection between the words and the visual art, this visual evolution made sense in the midst of the self’s evolution even if I couldn’t always make perfect sense of their relationship.

The absence of punctuation in some pieces allows for word play, multiple interpretations, and a breaking down of language, which—combined with this voice that never identifies itself by gender, that loves and loves, that voices an extending love—creates a mythology that I felt invited to slip into. That I could believe it possible to evolve along with and through this work signals to me that the experience of reading Nocturne Trio is one worth having.


Jonterri Gadson
Jonterri Gadson is Debra's daughter. A Cave Canem fellow, she is a recent graduate of University of Virginia's MFA program in poetry and the current Herbert W. Martin Post-Graduate Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Dayton. Her poetry has appeared in The Rumpus, Tidal Basin Review, PANK, and other journals. Her chapbook, Pepper Girl, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in Fall 2012.
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  • Jonterri Gadson

    Thank you for your comment, Zayne! And for exploring the artwork more closely in relation to the work. You’ve just given me something else to explore. Thank you!

  • Zayne Turner

    This review made me want to devour these poems. I, too, hoped for love and darkness & I think that Jonterri’s thoughts about the potential relationships between Metta Sáma’s words and Mihret Dawit’s images really helped me enjoy the abundance of both in Nocturne Trio. When I was reading the work, I was really struck by how powerfully I felt Sáma’s words turning & moving through outside-inside bodies. And I think Dawit’s use of light/dark, even positive and negative space, really plays well with this energy. What is background? What is the body? Where is the difference & where does it matter? That’s what this work got me thinking about, and this review really kicked off the conversation well, I think.

  • Zayne Turner

    This review made me want to devour these poems. I, too, hoped for love and darkness & the range of vulnerability in Nocturne Trio is haunting, haunted, haunts. Your focus on the visual connections was helpful for my reading, Jonterri. I do think that the combination of Metta Sáma’s words and Mihret Dawit’s colors, use of space really play well together. For me, Sáma’s words know how work the turn. We realize, mid-phrase, that the feeler/observer has really gone from talking about the bat, say, to talking about the self–and Dawit’s use of light and dark really also plays on ideas of positive/negative space. What’s background? What’s the body? Great review for really exciting, powerful work! Thanks for opening up the conversation, Jonterri.

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