The New Nudity by Hadara Bar-Nadav
Saturnalia Books, 2017; 80 pp
Reviewed by Kelly Lucero
After reading Hadara Bar-Nadav’s collection of poetry, The New Nudity, it is no wonder why she has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Society of America. The inanimate subjects of the poems in this collection present an objective observation of the world, which parallel beauty with brutality. What is most striking about Bar-Nadav’s work is her skill at writing of minute details, which are frequently overlooked.
Each poem in The New Nudity personifies and gives voice to everyday objects, as well as body parts. The speakers in the poems are given a dark and frequently ethereal voice, allowing the poems to observe the world from a neutral standpoint. In the opening poem, “Thumb”, the speaker is a thumb, which was “Once removed by a chisel. Then reattached.” This line gives a backstory to the thumb, which indicates that it has established its own identity through its experiences, in much the same way humans do. Further, because the reader has begun to perceive the thumb as sentient, Bar-Nadav successfully invokes a sense of loneliness in the reader by indicating that the thumb is “Detached / Distant from all others”. This poem produces a new sense of self-awareness by making the reader aware of their own thumbs’ isolation from the rest of their digits.
In listening to the words presented by the speaker in “Door”, it becomes clear that the door feels exploited as people endlessly utilize it, but rarely care for it, or even notice it for that matter: “No one notices my head, no one soothes / my forehead with a cool cloth. / You handle me, he handles me.” The reader begins to sympathize with the speaker as it discusses its inability to fend for itself. Because of its lack of limbs and tongue, the door cannot run away or speak up in protest. Bar-Nadav, through her poem, provides the door with this voice. Further, as the poem progresses, it seems that the manipulation of the door is sexual in a sense. Bar-Nadav writes, “If you look under my skirt you’ll see / the darkness of another world.” Through this image, it seems that the door feels sexually exploited (especially because of the use of the word “skirt), used solely for what it has to offer: something private and otherworldly.
“Telephone Pole” demonstrates the importance of objects to humans. In this poem, the telephone pole serves as a “Blind beacon” who brings people together. The speaker states, “I once held / the lips of a thousand / sleepy lovers / too far away to meet.” It is because of this object that the two lovers are able to communicate. Moreover, the telephone pole is also important in reconnecting people. Bar-Nadav recognizes the importance of this object in that it is used hang flyers of missing people. She writes, “Your missing / loves return to me / as ghosts with staples in their mouths.” While the object in this poem seems to take the background in its service to humans, it becomes clear just how important this object is to humanity.
Perhaps the most harrowing poem in the collection is “Dress (Aurora Borealis)”. The language of this poem paired with the image of the Aurora Borealis makes the reader perceive only beauty upon initial reading. It wasn’t until I read the notes at the end of the book that I realized there is something much darker beneath the surface. As Bar-Nadav notes, this poem was inspired by Ambreen Riasat, a victim of an “honor killing” in Pakistan. The lovely images in the poem completely alter the understanding of the poem. The once beautiful hues of the Aurora Borealis presented as “scarlets on fire” become images of Riasat’s torched body. Despite the disturbing undertones, the parallel with the Aurora Borealis also serves as a memorial for Riasat and her own beauty.
Throughout The New Nudity, Hadara Bar-Nadav brings the objects that humans take for granted to the forefront by personifying them. She makes her reader feel loneliness for thumbs, sympathy for doors, and appreciation for telephone poles. It is her attention to these small details that makes Bar-Nadav’s poetry so striking. She gives life to objects that we perceive daily, but never quite notice. Further, her harrowing parallel of nature to violence make her reader recognize that both exist simultaneously. As a result, her poems become a new way to view the world—which I believe is the new nudity to which she refers.