Reflective Reviews: Looking Back to Lullaby (with Exit Sign)

I’ve long been a fan of Hadara Bar-Nadav’s wondrous writing. From her first collection of poems A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight through Fountain and a Furnace, her 2015 chapbook, Bar-Nadav continues to write dazzling poems that showcase her immense talents—the grace with which her poems whirlingly accrete sound and image, and, among numerous other marvelous elements, the vibrant intellect that scaffolds her work.
And my favorite book of hers—one everyone should read—is Lullaby (with Exit Sign), winner of the 2013 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, a collection I return to again and again—and each time I open it I’m wowed by something new.

Lullaby (with Exit Sign) is a stunning book. Framed and studded by lineated verse and even an erasure, Lullaby (with Exit Sign) is mainly comprised mainly of prose poems (Bar-Nadav is a new master of the form) that take as their titles lines from Emily Dickinson. Lullaby (with Exit Sign) is a journey that is terrifying in the ways in which it navigates death and even more powerfully tender in the way it loves. But no matter the dread or sorrow found in the dying or loss, these poems are always pleasure-grounds—sonically brilliant and as luminous as they are sensitive.
Take the first half of my favorite poem in the collection:

I Don’t Like Paradise 

though the candy is nice and all things broken are whole again. Father
unpins his raveled limbs, repairs the impairment of paralysis and blot of
stroke. The clot now eased, the blood released, wanders the heart,
humming. And there is mother’s puzzled face.  The maze of surgical welts
dissolves. Melanomic swirls like cinnamon melt. Our juicy mouths gloss
sweet. We are sugary plastic, a shiny Paradise.

This poem is so goddamn alive in the ways it brings the dead father back to life. From the very beginning, and the accelerating movement from title to first words, to its sonic virtuosity—stoking our mouths and ears through “unpins his raveled limbs, repairs the impairment of paralysis and blot of stroke. The clot..” It vaults and converges sonically—bringing even more life to this imagined paradise.
Like most of her poems, the tapestry of sound in “I Don’t Like Paradise” is white-hot, as if Bar-Nadav can starlight into her the lines of her poems, but the beating heart at the center of her work is just as admirable as the deft craft of lines: the unflinching truth of the title is almost forgotten in the beautiful twirl of sensation and image, traveling, almost like a film watched backwards, as the signposts of pain dissolve like “cinnamon melt.” But we are yoked back to the emotive space of the title as the poem begins to turn; and “We are sugary plastic, a shiny paradise,” because the poem knows that on the other side of all lives there is always a nearly unbearable darkness.
There is so much to love in “I Don’t Like Paradise,” so much to speechlessly adore in the second half of the poem, in all of Lullaby (with Exit Sign) but I’ll leave it to you, Dear Reader, to find the pleasures in the way “all things broken break again.”
-Alex Lemon


PS: I know I’m not the only one who is excited for her next collection, The New Nudity, which Saturnalia will publish this fall, when it comes out, tell me what you think:

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