Explosive Lexicon: Karen Volkman’s poetry collection Nomina reviewed by J. Michael Wahlgren

Nomina, Karen Volkman, BOA Editions


What strikes me as interesting at first glance is the title of Karen Volkman’s new collection of poetry, ‘Nomina.’ Unnamed and indexed by first thoughts this collection relies on word choice and flow to capture the reader’s attention. With elongated sentence structure, if finding the “word behind the word” is the game, then Volkman has thought of all possibilities:

          Sweetest bleeding is the cipher of sleep.

          Soundless loaming, burying its dead.

          The raw riled lexicon that no one read.

          No word survives the color of this deep

There are two ideas inside of these lines, juxtaposed. The idea of this “soundless” being born is pulled to the fore through the words “loaming” and “deep” referring to digging up. Note Volkman the choice of the word “color,” which gives a sense of transcending the senses and the word being transferred in a secret code from author to reader. If we decipher this code of sonnet (the form of the poem), we end with a solid grasp of what Volkman is trying to accomplish. Volkman leaves no corner untouched. In the alternating couplets, Volkman achieves a confession of an explosive lexicon, a flow that captures the reader and exemplifies the sonnet structure itself. For example,

          Dull wheel

          Shall stall



Volkman seems to achieve once again an ideal of the natural and supernatural in these four lines. The flow of each word is natural; the rhyme scheme makes the interpretation supernatural. The structure indicates that Volkman is trying to take the reader some place new with a somewhat outdated form, the sonnet. If you are interested in slant rhymes, this is definitely a work of note. At first glance, the rhythm of the sonnets here all seems to be similar, but it’s nice when a breath of fresh air comes along in the sonnet [That’s what it says],

          Apple, atom, eye,

          Crux of nuance, manifest of why,

          Shall there be shale and hollow, fix and list,


          A zero mattered, a quiescence kissed,

          Rouge reine who rules the wrack and motley mien  

          The rain of faces, flesh-figured, dead green.

The commas convey the sense that the thoughts in the poems shifty, a necessary break from the smooth flow in all of the previous poems mentioned. The experimentalism found within these sonnets, the structure of the sonnet itself, the rhyming schema, the word choice, alliteration & assonance make this work’s complexity fathomable. Yet this work is fresh in all of these aspects for never once is the reader searching for some other means of phrasing. Volkman hints at the namelessness of Nomina, the ephemeral satisfaction the reader develops through these poems when she writes, “spore and structure still distinguish ghosts in spokes.”