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Paisley Rekdal, "Nightingale

Nightingale is a book about change. This collection radically rewrites and contemporizes many of the myths central to Ovid’s epic, The Metamorphoses, Rekdal’s characters changed not by divine intervention but by both ordinary and extraordinary human events.

In Nightingale, a mother undergoes cancer treatments at the same time her daughter transitions into a son; a woman comes to painful terms with her new sexual life after becoming quadriplegic; a photographer wonders whether her art is to blame for her son’s sudden illness; and a widow falls in love with her dead husband’s dog. At the same time, however, the book includes more intimate lyrics that explore personal transformation, culminating in a series of connected poems that trace the continuing effects of sexual violence and rape on survivors. Nightingale updates many of Ovid’s subjects while remaining true to the Roman epic’s tropes of violence, dismemberment, silence, and fragmentation. Is change a physical or a spiritual act? Is transformation punishment or reward, reversible or permanent? Does metamorphosis literalize our essential traits, or change us into something utterly new? Nightingale investigates these themes, while considering the roles that pain, violence, art, and voicelessness all play in the changeable selves we present to the world.

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