Taking the name of a nervous system disorder that causes involuntary shaking, Essential Tremor undertakes an exploration of the body that holds disruption at its heart. The captivating and timely poems in Essential Tremor attend to many 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, questioned, encountered and not, sought by people from the margins in the body of a biblical palimpsest. In her third collection, award-winning poet Barbara Nickel blends sonnets in sequences and scattered stand-alones with more formal innovations and extensions--erasures of the notes accompanying da Vinci's anatomical drawings, lines found from Beethoven's autopsy, and the musings of poet isolating in the midst of a twenty-first-century pandemic. Nickel asks her readers to consider the many facets of the body, how it finds the words, lines and poems that together form an essential life, a gift among our deepest wounds and terrors.
Barbara Nickel grew up in Saskatchewan and attended Goshen College in Indiana, where she studied music (violin) and English literature. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, where she also taught. Barbara has published acclaimed books for both adults and young people. Her children’s titles include Hannah Waters and the Daughter of Johann Sebastian Bach, which won a B.C. Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, as well as a picture book, A Boy Asked the Wind, which was a finalist for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award. Barbara lives in Yarrow, British Columbia, with her husband and two sons.
"Like Wallace Stevens, invoked through epigraph and structural echo in Essential Tremor, Barbara Nickel grapples with the relation between spirit and the world of sensation in this compelling new book. Her brilliant sonnet sequence, "Corona," is likely to stand among the finest (most nuanced) art to emerge from this harrowing time. Equally powerful is the consonantal riffing of her poem-set focusing on the body and its parts (sacrum/sacred). Sonically rich, formally adept, and allusively dense, Essential Tremor widens out to consider the nature of the body, of suffering, and of compassion through time. The vision is unsparing, yet leavened by grace. "
--Mary Dalton, Poet Laureate of the City of St. John's
"Barbara Nickel's Essential Tremor is a collection that resists easy categorization. With a musician's knowledge of rhythm and sound, Nickel pays homage to the lives of composers, crime victims, ordinary people, abandoned houses and sites of loss. This collection contains exquisite poems like "Essential Tremor" where a husband must sign his own anniversary card for his wife, whose hands tremble too much to make it possible for her to write: 'he addressed himself, Dear Dave, dear husband,/signed love and her name in his steady hand. ' The Anchoress poems, giving voice to the experiences of medieval religious women walled into small rooms by choice, speak with peculiar resonance to our lives now. One reading suggests we have all become anchoresses and anchorites during Covid-19, as we shelter in place, forced to contemplate matters of the spirit. Nickel has an ear for form, for rhyme, as her stunning series of linked sonnets shows, but form is supple in her hands: playful, surprising, full of ellipses, gaps, lyrical ironies. Internal and end rhymes are unexpected, vigorous; they linger in the ear. The tasks of caring for the living, while making sacred space for mourning the dead, carry these spare, finely wrought, intelligent poems. Perhaps this collection reminds us that it may be essential to tremble if we live with hearts and eyes open to suffering and beauty, if we remain porous to what humans are capable of inflicting upon one another, to the compounding losses we will bear--'with grief still green'--when we live and love fully. "
--Rachel Rose, author of Marry & Burn and The Octopus Has Three Hearts