THE NICK OF TIME
by Rosmarie Waldrop
New Directions, 160 pages
reviewed by Candela Rivero
The week before reading Nick of Time by Rosmarie Waldrop, an American poet, translator, and editor, I had a conversation with one of my best friends as we drove back from the mall. “Do you believe in parallel universes?” I asked her. It has been a burning question in the back of my mind –– like a twinkling star threatening to become stardust. “Well, that depends,” she answered. “The only thing between us and that other universe is choices– and time.”
A week later, as I delved into Waldrop’s world, I felt understood. My uncertainties about the universe echoed her own philosophical questions. Nick of Time is structured in ten chapters, some composed of individual poems and others like “Velocity but No Location” being a chapter-long poem. The last chapter, “Rehearsing the Symptoms,” includes eleven poems all titled with verbs in the present continuous tense such as “Wanting,” “Thinking,” and “Doubting.” Through her poetry –– specifically her use of metaphor, imagery, and reflection —she explores the concept of time. Each poem seems to birth from a question about the role of time and existence. For instance, when she tries to understand her new present in America in contrast to her German childhood, she writes “perhaps the present is only the past gnawing its way into the future. So that our day does not exist at all,” (12). As readers, we can feel the past “gnawing its way” into her life when there are German images and traditions spilling onto the page like her comment on being bilingual, “because passing from one language to another is an operation of conversion and exchange” and “the space between two languages is not between mirrors, but curves along the great wall of error, a refined form of adventure.” Not only that, but the speaker strives to make time a tangible matter, just as she turns feelings into a concrete subject.
As a native Spanish-speaker studying Creative Writing in an American universe, I understand Waldrop’s struggle to assimilate due to her being bi-cultural; she was born and raised in Germany and later immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. Utilizing her poetry as a bridge between her past and present, her sense of belonging is challenged. In “Interval and High Time,” she writes “Am I one of those immigrants who never discover America? Never truly arrive? Am I trying to reconstruct the places I left behind with French wine and books from Germany?”
Waldrop forces her audience to re-envision the world around them. We are encouraged to consider the role of time, emotions, identity, and even language by the questions she poses to readers. One of them is “but where then do we locate feeling?” (10). In this poem titled “The Almost Audible Passing of Time,” she tries to close the gap between emotions and the tangible.
One of Waldrop’s most astounding poetic techniques is the use of metaphors and simile to ground some of the more abstract terms such as time and love. Specifically, the poet builds an extended metaphor implying that language is love. Several of her pieces are categorically titled, such as the poem “Nouns,” which says, “Your refusal, when you talk about winter. To use figurative language. it helps, even if it distracts, to go with nouns. To have a choice. Even bold ones like ‘love.’” Another similar example would be “commas.” Another interesting aspect is the way Waldrop punctuates her sentences to create a fast-paced rhythm. Her sentences are often broken into fragments like seen in the examples above. She often breaks sentences with periods where periods aren’t needed. In “Any Single Thing,” she writes, “Is so complicated we can only give it a little shove with the knee. The cry of the gulls. The line between water and grammar.” However, there are times where periods are used correctly like in “My grammar falls short of these horizons. And I don’t know if I should tell you. I am that German wife.” The interesting aspect is that Waldrop consciously mentions grammar while discovering new ways in which it can show her fragmented thoughts.
The last poem, which effectively captures the passing of time, is titled “Aging.” She seems to be watching as people vanish from her life, “distant galaxies are moving away from us. Friends, lovers, family.” Waldrop moves from a place of wondering in the first few pages— “There is no evidence that we have a special sense. Of time. You don’t think it’s pressing as you sit on a sidewalk in Providence”—to finally understanding herself. The book ends with two very encapsulating sentences referring to the “dark” that lives within every self. “And though you are not well suited to the perspectives it opens it is an awesome thing to see. Once you can see it.” While she began not understanding the universe, or even herself, towards the end, she achieves a new perspective.
Candela Rivero is an Argentinian poet from South Florida. She is a senior English Creative Writing student at the University of Central Florida, where she worked as the managing editor of Cypress Dome Literary Magazine. Last year, she self-published her first poetry collection, Metamorphosis. Her preferred genres include poetry and historical fiction.