If New Jersey were the universe, Noelle Kocot would be its soul. No, wait. If Noelle Kocot were the universe, her soul would be in New Jersey and her toes in the sea, settling down a hurricane. Better yet, if Noelle Kocot controlled the galaxy, Soul in Space (Wave Books), her latest poetry collection, would be a satellite beaming down pictures of earth to earth.
If human experience is at times suffocating, Soul in Space certainly is not. The book travels along a wide spectrum of forms. Kocot has one hand in the sonnet jar, another in the one marked “slim and short,” with poems like “Talk”. Flipping through, a fan of Kocot’s work might see throwbacks to earlier books: the continuous form reminiscent of Sunny Wednesday, her fourth collection; the quatrain of Kocot’s first book, 4, so titled for its obsession with the number (Soul in Space is also broken into four sections).That’s what this book does to you—transmits poems down like a saint receives a vision. Frequencies are set to prediction, revelation, image, and imaginings. All the while, the book is grounded in the subjectivity and temperament that is unforgettably Kocot: surreal and forthright in feeling. Being a human in the outer space is both historically possible and most certainly uncomfortable, if not suffocating.
What is particularly thrilling in Soul in Space are the one-lined stanza poems. If a typical Kocot poem is ethereal, these untitled poems are extraterrestrial, talking around an “it” with a morphing identity. In the first poem, “it” is vulnerable, “Like a dandelion, it shed everything.” By the second poem, “it” is “my mother”:
“Whether it says, you’re sick, go to the doctor,
Or whether it says, you’re not sick, don’t go to the doctor,
I will be mad.
I will be mad because it is my mother.”
In a later poem, “it” is a silly simulacrum of everyone on the internet: “it liked looking at pictures of cats / On the computer.”
The point isn’t to chart out the route of “it” but to watch how the ill-defined is marked by its actions and idiosyncratic feelings—“it pardoned itself.” What is so important about Kocot is how precisely she identifies these weird moments. How identifiable they are and yet instantly fleeting, ungraspable.
The collection also gains momentum as it approaches its end. By its last section, the 121 page book—double the size of most poetry collections—leaves “it” all on the dance floor. If Soul in Space were a dance hall, these poems would be the disco ball. Each facet reflects a different way to dance: the sonnet, singlet, continuous, couplet, tercet, quatrain, and whatever are all boogying together. As “The Rest is Assured in the Brightness” says it, “Candleflame. Suck it.”
The poems of the final section are, oddly, some of the clearest of the collection. These poems work hard and get far. Which leads me to my one critique:
Is it time for Kocot to order her books herself?
In interviews Kocot has mentioned that she leaves roughly a years-worth of poems on the metaphorical desk of the fine people at Wave Books and lets them select and order the book. While I can see how this process can be liberating for a writer, I wonder what a book would look like that Kocot designed herself. Let me rephrase, I want to see a book that she planned herself. If my respect for Kocot were a fruit it would be as big as Jupiter.
Maybe I have misinterpreted some part of Kocot’s sensibility or process, but I imagine that Kocot’s poetic world is ever-expanding. I hope someday that kind of collection comes into being.
For now, I can take solace in the constant quirkiness of Noelle Kocot. If you don’t know what I mean, check her out onYouTube. Note the videos’ use of cats, the shaky set-up and breakdown, and their theatrical incorporation of props—hats and cigarettes and what I assume is a fake fur-collared jacket.
And once you get your hands on a copy of Soul in Space, take a look at the acknowledgments at the end. There you will find her thanks to a swelling amount of people and the longest list of wonderful pet names that exists. The heart here won’t quit, and why would you want it to?
As Carl Sagan said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, first you must invent the universe.” Thank God, Noelle Kocot understands that.