“To my mind, Bateman’s writing, which defies categorization (see Nin Andrews’ and Kathryn Nuernberger’s blurbs), is as close to non-fiction as poetry gets if, by non-fiction, you mean quantum mechanics. But hers is (surprise) an accessible metaphysics: if she’s going to take you somewhere strange and grand, it’s always somewhere universal as well, though her destinations are always towards the deep end of any pool. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for this largely-lay person-of-letters to describe what Bateman does ‘when she sits down to do poetry.’”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“There are only seven wonders of the literary world at any given time, and in this era, Claire Bateman is clearly one of them. (The names of the other six are yet to be revealed.) No one else on earth has an imagination, a wit, a vision, or an ethereal sensibility as powerful and intoxicating as hers.”―Nin Andrews, author of Why God is a Woman
“She speaks to the child in you, the scientist in you, the faun and the nymph and breath of a spirit on the wind in you. Wonders of the Invisible World is an idyll, a fancy, a reverie, a revelation, and I love every line on every page.”―Kathryn Nuernberger, author of Rue
“Recently, one of my formal poems was accepted by the South Carolina Review and editor Wayne Chapman asked me to compose a brief biographical statement for the back of the book. What I sent him was the first thing off the top of my head: ‘Elizabeth Boleman-Herring was a student of Coleman Barks, James Dickey, and Henry Taylor.’ Well, true enough, but what I should more properly have written was: ‘Elizabeth Boleman-Herring shared an office with poets Susan Ludvigson and Claire Bateman.’”―Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, from “Sharing Office Space with Poets Claire Bateman & Susan Ludvigson”
PENDLETON South Carolina—(Hubris)—January 2024—Let me launch this little appreciation, this love token in ephemeral prose undertaken to announce and celebrate the publication of Claire Bateman’s latest book, Wonders of The Invisible World, with a poem from her 1991 collection, The Bicycle Slow Race (Wesleyan University Press & University Press of New England). I open with “Cost” because it is so brief, such a true “lyric” on its face but, already, some three decades ago, of a piece with all of Bateman’s writing, a communiqué whose meaning, whose message, is uncontainable by what readers tend to see as, to name, a “poem.”
By Claire Bateman
Even Dante, though he saw the girl just twice,
in the unambiguous light of memory
looked at her for the first time
again and again, startling himself
every day throughout the rest of his life
because he knew that first times count
only in retrospect and in conclusion.
Therefore, choose what you love over and over,
recalling it while you spit the toothpaste out
or close your eyes to wander into sleep.
Strengthen the neural pathways that lead to it.
In your own dark it shines privately for you,
whatever it is, vengeance or safe delight.
But remember Dante’s dream: the cloud of unfurled fire
surrounding the terrible god who holds in his palm
a flaming heart—Vide cor tuum—and in the god’s arms
sleeping, the naked Beatrice, whom he awakens,
to feed her that living heart whole until she weeps.
Claire Bateman is not really writing “poetry,” but what else am I to call it?
As Poetry Editor here at Hubris, Bateman regularly introduces readers to work by living poets they might otherwise miss, given the hurly burly of verbiage now landing day in and day out before our jaded eyes. As the “first reader” of her monthly column, “Speculative Friction,” I, too, have come to know these poets and their work and to appreciate her curating what poetry I read.
Oddly enough, I myself consume poetry on a daily basis, and almost always have two books of poems by my bedside, along with a non-fiction book by a contemporary author (just now, Cat Bohannon’s Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution).
To my mind, Bateman’s writing, which defies categorization (see Nin Andrews’ and Kathryn Nuernberger’s blurbs above), is as close to non-fiction as poetry gets if, by non-fiction, you mean quantum mechanics. But hers is (surprise) an accessible metaphysics: if she’s going to take you somewhere strange and grand, it’s always somewhere universal as well, though her destinations are always towards the deep end of any pool.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for this largely-lay person-of-letters to describe what Bateman does “when she sits down to do poetry.”
She sits, begins writing, and takes flight. Which is not how Mary Oliver or Billy Collins or Charles Simic has approached the form. Most poetry is “grounded” somewhere, in something. Bateman briefly, only briefly—for a millisecond, perhaps—lights on an objective correlative (Dante and Beatrice) before launching into multiverses of experience and meaning. The weird thing is that you go with her; you see and learn and are lit up by and with her.
We Homo sapiens, we members of The Anthropocene, we readers of the English language are united by so much that is universal, if we but knew it. We, like Bohannon’s Eve, stand at the end of 200 million years of evolution, all about to be snuffed out by individual demises as well as the coming climate debacle. But still, we stand together though, largely, we read alone, in the silence of darkened rooms, many of us by artificial light at the end of dull, analog days.
Like Goethe, one and all, we can use . . . more light. And, still like Goethe, we turn to poetry for . . . more meaning.
And that is what I think Claire Bateman is at work delivering, through the medium of words on paper or on screens: enlightenment; wonder; astonishment; deliverance; comprehension; succor; affirmation; grace.
Those gifts are what she’s after, and what she’s trying to pass along to us. Big job. Poets, like physicists, take on the biggest of jobs.
I will close this (non-)review with the title poem from Bateman’s book, which, in ??? words, provides sentient readers with a portrait-of-the-artist-in-2023, the year of this book’s publication.
I urge you to order Bateman’s latest . . . as an essential text, as required reading, as a guidebook to destinations you suspected existed but may have visited in your dreams.
Wonders of the Invisible World
By Claire Bateman
Doesn’t everybody get a strange life?
Don’t we all get to walk around
inside ourselves all day long
and sleep there through the whole night?
Don’t we all have permanent access
to the magnum and the minimum opus,
the rising up and the sinking down?
Aren’t we granted the right
to refrain from occupying
more than one place at a time,
from sharing the portable spaces we inhabit,
from being in the least interchangeable?
Doesn’t it take all of our courage
to be this but not that?—
no matter how incremental the distinctions
in this world where even the smallest entity
is epic to itself and objects go precisely
to their own edges and then stop,
or at least hesitate.
Don’t we get all the ocean
and the idea of the ocean—
diffusion, resistance, and support—
along with those in-your-face heavens
of exponential blue,
cumuli performing their high-wire act
as the wind releases its flayed
and flaming exhalations?
And consecutive failures,
each more luminous than the last?
Don’t we get to drink deeply
of the sun and grief and night
and other voluminous bodies?
And there is all this topiary profusion.
And there are things that are discrete,
things that overlap, things that can be
left to themselves, and things requiring
intermittent maintenance and repair.
There are things which once released
from their containers will never fit back in.
There are things we’ve torn apart
with our bare hands—
a few of them are even visible
here where it’s been arranged for us
to be asynchronously lonely while
we tingle with the temporal heebie-jeebies,
as though preparing to lift off
with wings sutured together from
the mangled remains of defective feathers.
Up comes a small wind,
and the temperature begins to drop.
O bright wound of existence,
so feral and ferociously shy,
first wonder of the unseen world,
are you God, or just
some kind of emissary?
How chagrined we find ourselves
that we couldn’t have made you up!—
nor water, whose work
is to taste like nothing,
nor air, whose work
is to look like nothing,
nor fire, whose work
is to billow in the bloodstream,
even as it burns.
The second wonder is that certain spaces
are larger on the inside than on the outside.
To this the works of Hieronymus Bosch attest
with excruciating lucidity.
Fortunately, there is nearly always an exit
or, inversely, an entrance—
consider Saint Anthony
whose desert was honeycombed
with caverns like a sponge.
He traced his own path backward,
arriving at an identical opening
on the opposite side of the mountain
he’d tunneled through all night.
Lifting his hands to the sun,
he saw that they were encrusted
with what might have been snow,
but resolved into tiny white shells
dropping from his stiff fingers
as he flexed them one by one.
Then it was the voice of the ocean
he’d heard in the darkness—
the voice, or the mountain’s
memory of the voice.
That’s when the fine mesh
of the net encompassing the heart
became the branching capillaries
of his own eyes,
and his tears found their way out
between the delicate knots,
for he had reached that place in the body
where salt flows out
from a point so infinitesimal
you can find it only
by diving through.
The third wonder
is the boredom of children,
which can most accurately be compared
to a great linen tablecloth
borne in the beaks of four cranes
patiently circling the earth’s skies,
seeking the one place
where they can lay it down.
They may never lay it down.
Thus, regarding the boredom of children,
there is nothing more to be said.
Interlude in the Manner of a Digression
Evaporation occurs on the threshold
between the visible and invisible.
Thus, it can be listed
but not assigned a number.
Evaporation means God spares us
the burden of drying off the world,
the misery of water
with no natural place to go,
a life weighed down by permanently
saturated towels and soggy dishcloths
beneath a scalding sky.
True, Noah learned fear
at the sight of those
heaped up, heaving tides,
but it wasn’t till he beheld
the waves drawn back,
steam rising in columns
from the glistening soil
that he suffered his first
The fourth wonder is the act of falling.
If it were possible to map a fall,
we would see that like reverse déjà vu,
a fall occurs in the mind
one iota of an instant
before it manifests in the body
The mental fall is the bride;
the physical fall is the verger
sweeping up the rice.
The fifth wonder is rumor and gossip;
third-hand testimony; a voice
navigating the turns
of a tale by intimate landmarks;
anecdotal evidence, all we get to keep;
snatches of narrative floating free
long after the speaker is forgotten.
The heiress who, hoping for a better man,
left her husband, and then, a year later,
in remorse, gave him the fortune
he married someone else with.
And the graduate student who accepted the offer
of fifty-thousand dollars if he’d just take
this free ticket to Mexico, spend the night
in a hotel (all expenses paid!),
fly home the next day.
We salute people who speak
with ghosts and extraterrestrials.
We honor conversions, deconversions,
everything people undergo in those places
they call their lives, not quite inaccessible
in parallel time, as though the little stories
are coalescing or the one big story is breaking down.
We trust how some almost-smothered part of us
imagines such reversals that even now
we can take ourselves by surprise.
If the air is all happening at once,
it finds no need to hurry;
if it occurs in tiny spherules
it knows leisure
but no reason for delay.
Break a breath down
to the smallest weather,
and it’s still a saga,
flesh’s first epiphany,
whose inner lining
is stitched with flame.
Wave-like, it recedes and surges,
adoring all its habitations
with equal ardor in infinite exchange:
hello Attila, hello Jeanne d’Arc,
hello cat-sized horses galloping
through forests of gigantic primeval ferns—
breath transmuting into breath
in ecstasies of iteration
And into the future it bears us
like packs of sled dogs
through our sleep.
Holes are falling
through the universe,
passing through the sieve
for invisible things
which is itself invisible,
so we can never know
how fine the mesh is,
how close the weave.
Midwifing our arrivals
at their incorporeal city,
the dead are courteous
in that clinical way.
Here comes the next peak, they say,
Try to relax—knowing that we won’t,
even though won’t in the end
will spare us nothing.
Still, they don’t chide,
remembering that we’ve had
no practice, that for each of us,
it’s always the first time.
First published in Image Issue 97.
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