Fjords Reviews

HOME | BOOK REVIEWS | Hush by Nikki Ummel
Hush by Nikki Ummel



Fjords Review, Hush by Nikki Ummel

by Nikki Ummel

Belle Point Press
28 pages
ISBN 979-8-985896-52-7


by Justin Lacour


There is a rare intimacy to the poems in Nikki Ummel’s chapbook, Hush. The poet takes the reader into some of the most vulnerable spaces possible, beginning with a double mastectomy and ending with the speaker’s first sexual experience. These are poems that are unafraid to deal with tragedy, but their true gift is an ability to make the people of the poems feel real and their heartbreak so close it seems like our own. Ummel is an empathetic poet and her tenderness for her subjects, whether children or the city of New Orleans, shines through in these poems.

The collection is divided into two parts. The first section deals largely with family and the specter of death hanging over them. A number of these poems are about children, but the poet never falls into easy sentimentality here. Rather, the reader gets children with all their natural strength and wild imagination.

In “Fantasy of Walking My Niece Home,” the speaker cares for her young niece while the child’s mother is “unreachable,” her “pink nails painted by kind hospice nurses.” The two walk by some trees and the niece begins to worry about the pine cones: “We have to put them back,/she says. Their mommy will miss them,” echoing the child’s own predicament. (p. 4). The poet gives us the terrible helplessness of being alone with a child, struggling to find the right words to explain hard truths: “some things can’t/come home.” (p. 5).

In perhaps the most searing poem of the collection, “And He Takes And He Takes And He Takes,” the threat of loss seems unshakeable. The poem introduces us to Elah, a child as old as her mother’s “father is dead.” He “withered & scabbed/on a worn futon cushion” while “Elah grew strong in the womb.” (p. 8). Even this, however, does not prepare us for the most devastating lines of the poem: “Elah is large for her age the x-ray/reveals a skeleton two years too old . . . Elah is five her skeleton is seven a cage fit to burst/her ribs bars of iron her bones of bronze.” (p. 9).

The second part of the book shifts the focus from the speaker’s relationship to her family to the speaker’s relationship with her city and her past. “After the Flood,” describes a typical New Orleans experience: evacuating ahead of a hurricane. The poem, however, balances the speaker’s worry with a self-deprecating humor, wondering what her descendants would make of the artifacts left to the storm: “our chipped/pho bowls, the blown glass/bong” along with the Fats Domino record “Still spinning.” (p. 12). Writing about the city seems to give the poet a certain liberty and the New Orleans poems can be inventive and playful, including a meditation on an abandoned weave and a poem told from the point of view of a fig tree.

The book closes with “Sarasota, 2010,” a poem whose gentleness belies the subject, losing one’s virginity in a barn: “He laid me down like a blanket/smoothed me over,/my edges tucked.” (p. 19). What is striking is how the lovers seem to disappear into the nature around them. All the action comes from the trees, the flowers, the horses, all having an almost visceral reaction to the lovemaking. Despite the strangeness of the setting, the retelling does not come off as traumatic. Rather, the ending seems completely joyful with nature supporting the lovers: “Afterwards . . . The lavender lifted. I saw I/saw all the trees of the field/clap their hands.” (p. 19).

Although the subject matter of Hush is serious, the darkness never feels overwhelming. This is a tribute to the obvious love Ummel has for her subjects and the way the poems highlight relationships and human connections as our saving grace. These are poems with enormous hearts and Hush is a brave, generous, and compassionate collection.


American Neolitic by Terence Hawkins

Alexis Rhone Fancher’s Erotic: New and Selected Poems

Chasing Homer by László Krasznahorkai

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

The Death of Sitting Bear by N. Scott Momaday



Made by Mary by Laura Catherine Brown

THE RAVENMASTER: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London

Children of the New World By Alexander Weinstein

Canons by Consensus by Joseph Csicsila

And Then by Donald Breckenridge

Dear Everyone by Matt Shears

Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones

Intimacy by Stanley Crawford

Lunch Poems by Deborah Kuan

The Best American Poetry 2016

One with the Tiger by Steven Church

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

The King of White Collar Boxing by David Lawrence

They Were Coming for Him by Berta Vias-Mahou

Verse for the Averse: a Review of Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry

That Other Me by Maha Gargash

Simone by Eduardo Lalo

Swimming by Karl Luntt

Ghost/ Landscape by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher

Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus

Bad Light by Carlos Castán

Diaboliques by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly

Staying Alive by Laura Sims

Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Fireflies by John Leland

Maze of Blood by Marly Youmans

Tender the Maker by Christina Hutchkins

Little Anodynes by Jon Pineda

Conjuror by Holly Sullivan McClure

Someone's Trying To Find You by Marc Augé

The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Now You Have Many Legs to Stand On by Ashley-Elizabeth Best

The Darling by Lorraine M. López

How To Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes

Watershed Days: Adventures (A Little Thorny and Familiar) in the Home Range by Thorpe Moeckel

[INSERT] BOY by Danez Smith

Demigods on Speedway by Aurelie Sheehan

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

Singing Bones by Kate Schmitt

Knuckleball by Tom Pitts

Wandering Time by Luis Alberto Urrea

Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail by Ralph Hamilton

Domenica Martinello: The Abject in the Interzones

Control Bird Alt Delete by Alexandria Peary

Twelve Clocks by Julie Sophia Paegle

Love You To a Pulp by C.S. DeWildt

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

ESSAY 2:12 A.M. by Kat Meads

Revising The Storm by Geffrey Davis

Quality Snacks by Andy Mozina

Midnight in Siberia by David Greene

Strings Attached by Diane Decillis

Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging by Joshua Dolezal

The New Testament by Jericho Brown

You Don't Know Me by James Nolan

Phoning Home: Essays by Jacob M. Appel

Words We Might One Day Say by Holly Karapetkova

Murder by Danielle Collobert

Sorrow by Catherine Gammon

The Americans by David Roderick

Put Your Hands In by Chris Hosea

I Think I Am in Friends-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa

Third Wife by Jiri Klobouk

box of blue horses by Lisa Graley

Review of Hilary Plum’s They Dragged Them Through the Streets

The Sleep of Reason by Morri Creech

The Hush before the Animals Attack by Carol Matos

Regina Derieva, In Memoriam by Frederick Smock

Review of The House Began to Pitch by Kelly Whiddon

Hill William by Scott McClanahan

Seamus Heaney Aloft

The Bounteous World by Frederick Smock

Review of The Tide King by Jen Michalski

Going Down by Chris Campanioni

Review of Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade by Rob Cook

Review of The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor

Review of The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish

Review of Life Cycle Poems by Dena Rash Guzman

Review of Saint X by Kirk Nesset

Review of Jessica Treadway's Please Come Back to Me

Eve Asks by Christine Redman-Waldeyer