Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager, published by small press Cherry Grove Collections, is a collection that gives voice to the thoughts, the events, and the split seconds before tragedy or fateful decisions are made that are only heard in silence. The silence is a voice, quick to speak and die out without stalking across the stage and declaring itself. Secrets are revealed in these poems, like the undiscovered joy “Deborah Sampson” (page 11) — a woman who enlisted as a man in the Army during the Revolutionary War — felt posing as a man and disappearing from her real self. Or in “The Moment Before the Moment” (page 19), where the narrator comes across the hidden beauty of a sunrise before the actual sun rises above the horizon. Each poem illuminates the in-between, the edge, the precipice before the collision of events or moments in time.
The Space Coast (page 14; click the poem title and scroll the page to see this poem and others in the collection)
An Airedale rolling through green frost,
cabbage palms pointing their accusing leaves
at whom, petulant waves breaking at my feet.
I ran from them. Nights, yellow lights
scoured sand. What was ever found
but women in skirts folded around the men
they loved that Friday? No one found me.
And how could that have been, here, where
even botanical names were recorded
and small roads mapped in red?
Night, the sky is black paper pecked with pinholes.
Tortoises push eggs into warm sand.
Was it too late to have come here?
Everything’s discovered. Everything’s spoken for.
The air smells of salt. My lover’s body.
Perhaps it is too late. I want to run
the beach’s length, because it never ends.
The barren beach. Airedales grow
fins on their hard heads, drowned surfers
resurface, and those little girls
who would not be called back to safety are found.
At times, the images seem thrown together haphazardly, but readers must let themselves go, meditate on the words in the context of the moment presented, before the “truth” is revealed. What is not said explicitly about certain moments can be as violent as the moment that remains unspoken — what happens between walking through a park after dark following a mother’s rejection and when the narrator wakes up with his pants around his ankles in “Rohypnol” (page 34). What this style shows is that there are numerous ways to tell a story and to uncover “truth,” and it does not always have to be explicit or harrowing, though there are moments of violence on the surface of some poems.
Ager spends a great deal of time exploring the hidden spaces in our minds, our secret desires and thoughts, and even the thoughts we didn’t know we had. Like a mother who has no husband or children to take care of for the evening in “Alone” (page 38), and all she can think of is the next task on the list or when the next task will come for her. But beyond that, her personification of inanimate object, such as a telephone, can convey those unspoken desires in a way that a mere narrative involving a man and a woman cannot.
Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager is a personification of silent whispers in dark corners, where the secrets and mysteries of ourselves lie in wait — wanting to be revealed and not. Readers will take a journey into these recesses and uncover their own hidden secrets, smile at the camaraderie these poems produce, and search for more. One of the best collections I’ve read this year.
Deborah Ager’s poems appear in New England Review, The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, New South and in the anthologies No Tell Motel and Best New Poets. She’s received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and she received a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
She is founding editor and publisher of 32 Poems Magazine. Many poems first appearing in 32 Poems have been honored in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. Ager codirects the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Reading Series in Washington, DC and teaches at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.
This is my 12th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.
This is my 19th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.
This is my 11th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge. I’ve wanted to read this since the poet sent it to me for review, but life got in the way.