Might I say, Echo is a figure of us all? I feel it must be so when I read Nancy Kuhl’s poems, work that shows how intimacy is a form of utmost intricacy. How are we each an Echo? Well, let me count the ways. We hear another talk—often in these poems another with whom we live, often in a room (that echo-chamber)—and though we hardly know we do so, we repeat his words within us. We cannot help it. We repeat all we’ve been told, holding it to Echo’s own dear scrutiny, one that is erotic and permutative at once, figuring out how to respond to those words we must respond to, and how to do so by finding locked in some cave of the mind other words that to us have been spoken, to echo them back out to the loved one’s mind. Echo lives in the eye when she names the images seen; we feel it in Kuhl’s poems in their wondrous awareness not only of sight, but of seeing sight, as one must name light “light” for the poem to grow on the page bright, bright, as does a room when in through the window pours the sun. Nancy Kuhl poems bear witness to a quality they also always enter, threatening their own objectivity with participation; they are poems, to steal from Keats, that occur in the penetralium of the erotic mind, the innermost chamber, sacred but for the need to trespass into it, where thought listens to its thinking, where self is self-regarding only to allow a fine disregard to occur, one that shakes the self as a mountain wind shakes a pine. I would call the poems wise in their daily-ness— attuned to light and shadow, word and echo, keenly honoring of the fact that marks their genius most: that each of us have not only an inner life, but inner lives. Wise, yes—
where thought listens to its thinking, where self is self-regarding
but these poems would question the hubris of such a word, and turn from it, not because it isn’t true, but because they still find in themselves the work it is they must do: this map of our most intimate terrain, the erotic ground of the self, where Narcissus fears the love he needs, and Echo begins her pining.
DAN BEACHY-QUICK is the author, most recently, of a collaborative project on Proust, written with Matthew Goulish, Work from Memory. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Colorado State University.