STARRED REVIEW
September 12, 2017

A poet’s captivating debut

By Nicole Sealey
Review by

Nicole Sealey navigates heavy ideas with felicity and skill in her hotly anticipated debut collection, Ordinary Beast. Though the world her poems inhabit is marked by violence and confusion, they counter this chaos with humor and clarity; her language is plainspoken, exacting and beautiful, often leading to linguistic pearls of surprising wisdom and depth.

Share this Article:

Nicole Sealey navigates heavy ideas with felicity and skill in her hotly anticipated debut collection, Ordinary Beast. Though the world her poems inhabit is marked by violence and confusion, they counter this chaos with humor and clarity; her language is plainspoken, exacting and beautiful, often leading to linguistic pearls of surprising wisdom and depth.

Ordinary Beast’s field of examination is identity: race, wealth, family, the body, the unstable self. In “It’s Not Fitness, It’s a Lifestyle,” she muses, “I’m waiting for a white woman / in this overpriced Equinox / to mistake me for someone other / than a paying member” and then shifts from this potentiality to the image of a bird stuck in an airport: “I ask myself / what is it doing here? I’ve come / to answer: what is any of us?” Going from the personal to the universal through metaphor is a classic move, but to do so in 13 short, punchy, aerodynamic lines shows Sealey at her best.

Sealey's poetry is most striking when she plays with forms. There are traditional and experimental sonnets, a sestina about the board game Clue, an erasure of said sestina, a cento and more. Sealey comfortably colors within the lines of these forms, breaking from their constraints when her personable voice ideates a less rigid and more interesting path.

In the ekphrastic “Candelabra with Heads,” Sealey invents a form that reverses the order of the lines halfway through, a time-warp that forces the reader to relive every phrase in new contexts. Later in the collection, “In Defense of ‘Candelabra with Heads’” deconstructs the first poem, speaking to the reader directly and pointing out the original poem’s potential flaws. The reader becomes aware of the pliability of voice, and by proxy, the self.

Ordinary Beast is full of these neat devices, but they never distract from the core of warmth and familiarity that drives these poems to the heart. Technical prowess means nothing when a poet’s music can remind us who we are, “how we entertain the angels / with our brief animation.”

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Ordinary Beast

Ordinary Beast

By Nicole Sealey
Ecco
ISBN 9780062688804

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!