Poetry in Motion: Essential Tremor

July 13, 2021

Barbara Nickel has written about bodies, in one form or another, for many years. In this, her third collection of poetry  Essential Tremor (Caitlin Press), her past work coalesces into new and timely perspectives on body—the presence of a unifying and disruptive tremor that spread from the micro of the physical to the macro of our our worldly upheaval at the hands of the pandemic.

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Essential Tremor, my third collection of poetry, includes a crown of sonnets by an isolating poet about the coronavirus; a found poem in mirror writing from a dissecting of da Vinci’s anatomical manuscripts; a biblical palimpsest that focuses on the body and its parts; and “thin poems” ranging in location from Mt. Edith Cavell to Bonaire.

This prism of perspectives emerged after years of writing about bodies—the body of the world, changing, unreachable, at times momentarily illumined; the human body, loved, ill, mourning, passing or passed from this world; and the divine body, encountered and not. Essential Tremor describes both the medical condition, a nervous system disorder that causes involuntary shaking and cannot be explained, as well as the gift of a poetic body. Tremor indicates the disruptive nature of this poetic exploration, both at the micro level, i.e. in the shaking of my spouse’s hand, and the macro level. i.e. a pandemic’s upheaval.

Form holds the collection together. Sonnets and sonnet sequences became half of the book. The sonnet’s sensibility embodied many of the themes I was exploring, such as the paradox of restriction and ease in faith and family, music, loss and love. Sonnets allowed me to both report and meditate on current events; the form’s brevity and inward-outward focus became an important medium, following in the long tradition of other poets who have used the form to reflect what is going on in the world.

But it was important for me also to play with form in response to what content demanded—for example, I cut the sonnet in half to make the thin poems, and exploded it to make a new form in the palimpsest poems. This exploration seemed essential to finding the tremor that is at my book’s—and my own body’s—core.


Barbara Nickel reads from Essential Tremor



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Essential Tremor is Barbara Nickel's third collection of poetry. Her first collection, The Gladys Elegies, won the Pat Lowther Award and her second, Domain (House of Anansi, 2007), was a Quill & Quire Best Book of the Year. Nickel's work has also appeared in many magazines and anthologies including The Walrus, Poetry Ireland Review, Arc Poetry Magazine, and The Malahat Review. Nickel is also an author of books for young people, one of which won a BC Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year. Her other children's titles have been nominated for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award, as well as several Young Readers' Choice awards. Barbara Nickel lives and writes in Yarrow, BC.



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A special thank you to Barbara Nickel for sharing Essential Tremor with us for this edition of Poetry in Motion!




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