The Living Method by Sara Nicholson 
The Song Cave, 2014; 92 pp
Reviewed by Joanna Novak


The fifth title published by the bewitching Song Cave, The Living Method by Sara Nicholson documents a war waged between the natural and symbolic orders. In “Portrait of Myself at Any Age,” the speaker states: “You might say I have a problem/with the outdoors.” That problem may be less a problem of distaste and more a problem of excessive affection—the way I might admit to having a problem with peanut butter:

Hardcore love can be dangerous.

Throughout The Living Method’s four sections, the speaker finds evidence of mankind’s most omnipresent invention—language and all its trappings—lurking in the wild. See “Netherlands,” for instance:

“Language, that reconstructed bird/impresses us with its materials.”

Or, “Prolegomena”:

“The black cloud is really the shadow/of a heart, grown Latinate”

But Nicholson doesn’t restrict her symbols to the alphabet. In poems like “The Neighborhood in C++” or “Provincialisms,” the language of programming and logic, respectively, is implicitly and explicitly co-opted. The presence of the natural world and the explicitness of grammar present a controlled tableau that belies more chaotic themes.

“Portrait of Myself at Any Age,” after all, begins: “I remember nothing.” It is this short declaration that haunts the collection. “The Living Method” suggests that by turning to systems and ecosystems, we might dim the inevitable toll of the end. As Nicholson puts it so beautifully in “Like Certain Music,” “I swore that the thesaurus/would give meaning to the galaxy.”