To call a poem or poet “smart” is to offer a surface compliment that hides a “merely,” a suggestion that heartbreak is defended against or overlooked altogether. Nick Shapland’s poems are doing some thinking, yes, but they are doing it under great emotional pressure, which lends the thought urgency and purpose. A perennial INFJ, I prize intuition, which I understand to be intelligence that skips steps and, because of its swiftness and elisions, ends up in a completely other place that stolider brands of logic can’t reach or even imagine. Every elementary schooler these days knows there are different kinds of intelligence. Poets know rationality is the least of it, the most of it not just association: I find this intuitive intelligence in Shapland’s poems. The wisdom moments here come on not like light bulbs but like the white light we are all heading for, all the time (but unaware, luckily). The realizations that seize this poet are not necessarily pretty (though their flat music is sublime), but they are true and useful on our journey.
Free of upper-middle-class frippery (both economic and literary), these poems suggest something almost utopian about their environments. The setting of “Condoism” is a condo, not a house with picket fence. When the speaker of “A Plate of Shrimp” says, “I poop and dream,” that dream is not the American dream. If I say these poems seem uneducated, I mean they are free of the varnish of expensive universities (although I met Nick when he was my student at the New School, and he has a graduate degree from Mills College). Maybe I mean unindoctrinated, or, even better, unconvinced. The sensibility of these poems goes about the world without the down jacket of assumed privilege.
The poet takes his experience and illumination neat, which is his gift to us. It is the gift of intelligence and urgency and vision applied to our emotional and existential predicaments, and we need it.
A Plate of Shrimp
I keep thinking of that Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred”
and I think on my list would be
the bust of a woman, the head flung back,
everything uncontrolled and her
mouth wide open
the inimitable sound of man-made instruments, not voice, streaming out.
Small birds stream as the belt of perfect ruthless arpeggiators stream
visible best over open land.
Yet emitting is a chord: regret and desire.
Below and to the side of this sun-like head are
three smaller women lined up
hands concealed by their robes
so you can’t tell if the wrists are chained.
With their heads weighed down by an invention of hair
They sing a high triple harmony,
which goes up.
(I do spy too over it all
turquoise and brown woven
in a lattice of coincidence.
Yet I know color cannot be a fabric.)
A black-toothed ghost walks through a curtain.
You see, a lie is re-exposed
when something is woken up by song
and nothing is returned.
Even during the seconds the one enormous lid
slides up then down, even then
Something is happening, all around.
I poop and dream.
And those women,
do they mourn or they are mourning?
in a condo
many ideas will play out
but rarely will there be a play.
and Hieronymus Bosch
will be at home
in a condo.
did not know about us getting high
Sue, my mom, did not know we took the champagne
skipped school on Halloween day
and wore no costume but our lies,
all in her condo.
But we remember the night she picked up the phone and heard us ordering weed.
And years later she sent you flowers and that meant so much to you.
So many lessons in life I get in condos.
The Pieta was staged in one once.
It wasn’t a condo, actually, it was a house,
but it felt like a condo, since
the people in it were doing
so well at make-believe.
We have lazily been working on this manifesto for years,
me and girls.
I say “Every condo has an urge.”
to which you say
“A condo has an urge to define itself!”
“The urge to be a real house.”
Oh! to get things!
And like condos it’s hard to tell like-people apart.
I’m in a condo right now, would you believe? writing this (or hearing it as you are)
and it just so happens Sue said tonight she wished
she had the money for hardwood floors while we stood
in the kitchen. And you know even though guilt does
consume me like a weed?
I’ll never forget what came next: she said it’s always
nice to have carpet in the bedroom.
Things could be comfortable.
But it’s a fright, comfort’s waiting
for the moment to settle in.
tipping over could startle it enough
to make us both think twice.
“Don’t kid yourself.”
To be melodramatic
to use blankest unhappiness to use
mad bitterness with weeping in bed in the night
to use pity and freedom and longing and delirium
to arrive at a place where the sky unhinges
like a crying witch.
When My Mother Wished
Wishes many as the strings of a harp appeared even though we all assumed
No wishing for more wishes!
Was there were there was there . . . I had wished for a lot of money.
At a certain age we agreed
no one lives in the moment, it’s always passing.
A fusillade of nano-science says there is a real life but
a bitter aura around it that trails anger
biting and weaving in repair,
A vocal cord surgeon taking on a harp.
The Sleeping Hypnotist
If I die I’d like electrocution.
Comfortably, in a comfortable setting.
Warm light could bathe my face while I did something little
like messing with a plug or turning off the light. I’d be open
to a surprise. Any form
of electric current will do since I am braced
for some violence.
A lightning bolt would be ideal; elegant blue being
a part of nature and all.
I suppose it is all now
that I’m crouched under a desk.
Even the blue honey
of particles that fill my home, even they
are my heart.
Most of my life is indoor dreams anyway,
A complex relationship, comfortable,
in a comfortable netting.
When I snap my fingers you’ll