The Words Will Keep Us Connected to Each Other: A Review of Grace Bauer’s Nowhere All At Once
by Darius Stewart
What is it about Grace Bauer that compels us so much to her work? How many lines defining poetry does she write that enable us to identify our own lives so viscerally because her words, with enormous empathy, eventually translate into poems of sympathy? It’s as if she has intended to speak for us all with her namesake: grace.
What else about Bauer do we seek from her but truth and understanding? Her latest collection, Nowhere All At Once, is committed to poems of the ethereal; they are suffused with the heart of the human spirit pulsing as if it were a celestial being seeking so ardently to be one with the universe. These poems seem to have been written as if to galvanize us to forgive ourselves for what can be understandably conveyed as a failure to be fully present in the most grievous moments of life. These poems do not accuse; they trumpet a spirit of hope we can all use to reconcile our personal losses with a strident voice—one might even call it relaxation.
Whether through poems of actual death, or simply through journaling how the speaker “gets through the days” as a woman circumventing life in search of love, of healing from loss, and most importantly, of finding solace in the face of these conflated afflictions, Bauer navigates the bends in life still knowing there are many more roads to turn. She does so with a masterful orchestration of words one might feel compelled to read aloud (or record, even) just to hear the musicality possessing her poems—the syncopations, the Dickinsonian slant rhymes—but what is also remarkable is how she uses the ghazal’s form to create couplets resulting in endless possibilities of meaning.
Bauer can be considered an auteur: our lives are directed by her words if we settle ourselves into understanding how it is to feel dislocated. She takes her cue from luminaries such as Adrienne Rich, John Berryman, William Wordsworth, A. R. Ammons—and this is to name just a few mentioned epigraphically in this particular collection. Her words, too, suggest an existential crisis we have all felt. How do we navigate our lives even if we fail to understand what we can’t control? Do we reject the possibility that we ever can? Through sublimation, Bauer enlists her speakers to exhibit a sense of self-discovery—asking how we might “elicit the appropriate response” to life’s great mysteries—and with great aplomb, she proposes through her verse that emotional attachment and detachment aren’t always mutually exclusive. When she writes “we keep / the small talk going, hoping it will grow large, / become a song we’ll remember the words to, and that / the words will keep us connected to each other…” Bauer indeed does just that. The “small talk” is the individual poems that become the larger conversation, culminating into a book linking us all to the ubiquitous question: what is it we can do to reconcile the feeling of being present with the feeling of being also “nowhere all at once”?