The New Years by Hannah Brooks-Motl
Rescue Press, 2014; 85 pp
Reviewed by JoAnna Novak
George Grote categorized perceptions of the human sense in his Plato and the other companions of Sokrates (1865) as sweet, hot, hard and light, which might also describe Hannah Brooks-Motl’s touch in her first collection of poems, The New Years.
A series a side
Alley to time
writes Brooks-Motl in Winter Then, the first of The New Years’ three sections. Humans tacting away their inner animals, girls seeking homes or arms or beds, the lurky detours of lingering too long in past, present, future—in these telegraphic opening lines, Brooks-Motl bares the bones of the ideas and concerns that holiday and domesticate across the collection.
Though the three sections contain an array of constitution-altering landscapes (Europe, the boudoir, the mall, the prairie), they are unified by sharp, elegant elocutions and a speaker whose smarts are checked by the niceties of guilt. Brooks-Motl’s diction shimmies and twerks, waltzes and moshes, with equal dignity:
In the stuffy capsule I have swung my legs
One’s inadequacies strewn importantly about
Nothing proper, underground
What of Judgment…
The boldness of the speaker surpasses her self-awareness. She is concerned by who sees her and how; she is concerned by what she sees and how she sees herself. In lesser hands, these concerns may be tired or trite, but Brooks-Motl’s line is exacting, her gaze clarified to the point of glistering—“She lies down among memory like sin.”
A negotiation of character—hardness and lightness, sweetness and heat—reoccurs while reading The New Years, and I like this deep-down definition: skill or judgment in dealing with men or negotiating compromising situations. “Tact, discretion, wildness, calm, politesse, oh to never disturb another,” Brooks-Motl writes in Winter Then, the collection’s first section. In Properly Speaking, the second section: “When you see my image, you must worship.” And in Village & Sea, the final section: “One must wear ripped-up jeans and glide/Through the fixed mouth of morning…The self too will dawn, nicely hideous—one should hide from it.” There are qualities to strive for, postures to attain, right ways to walk to one’s car at the scraggly end of a long night.
The New Years, as the title suggests, sees time as an anecdote to the irrepressible messiness of the self. “We love the new year like an object,” writes Brooks-Motl, and this affection for the inherent possibility of that which is yet not lived or written hangs wistfully air over the book. The future, the new year, provides an opportunity for mastering one’s relationships, one’s urges, one’s memories, and thereby one’s present self. “Power is a mood,” Brooks-Motl offers, a reminder that she knows the exactness with which she wields that tool.