Nights for Weeks
by Teneice Durrant
Two of Cups Press, 2014
27 pages, $12
Reviewed by Liz Purvis
Teneice Durrant’s poetry chapbook is a collection of poems that move back and forth between religious mythology and the reader’s recognizable reality; at times, as in “Mother of Nations,” the two bleed together in a way that is surprising and refreshing. There are a lot of ‘what if’s’ in this collection, both literally written into the poetry and more abstractly considered within the subject matter of the poems themselves.
Many of the poems I was most drawn to in Night for Weeks focused on secondary mythological characters—Lot’s wife, Sarah (wife of Abraham), Athena, Eve, Eurydice—but they do so with subtlety. The strength of many of these pieces lies within the way they refuse to spoon-feed the reader. The poems offer potential perspectives, alternate realities.
What if instead of turning, or
tripping, then flaking into a coarse
pillar, Lot’s wife pressed on,
the backs of her daughters’ heads
shining like lodestars…
“Spared” begins with these five lines, then continues its ‘what if’s, revealing what might have been an alternate narrative for the biblical character. Instead of turning to gape at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, in this poem Lot’s wife turns back because of
the one who helped carry her
baskets when Lot couldn’t be found…
There’s lots of pain, the questioning of it and what causes it, the weighing of choices. In “Daddy’s Girl,” a speaker presumed to be Athena tells us:
I break every man
I hold, only some on purpose.
This chapbook gives equal weight to the retellings of mythological characters and to the unknown speakers of other poems sprinkled through the pages. There’s a sense that each one of these speakers is complicated, no one more or less real than the others. In “On Going Home,” the speaker lists the problems of home and advice on how to make one, prompting one of my favorite phrases in the whole collection:
Fill it with people, stories
and lives, preferably a good mix of bliss
and shattered light bulbs.
The poems I didn’t get were the ones in which place kept shifting, though Durrant seemed to make these choices intentionally and her phrases are no less compelling. “East of the Equator” acknowledges the jumping, the strange time displacement, and even though the poem resonated less with me than some of the others, I couldn’t help but be moved by:
It might as well
be fall where
you are. Not here.
In pieces like this one, Durrant employs a stylistic trend often seen in strong poems, breaking momentum and packing punches with very short lines in between longer ones. She does this again in “Nectar,” a poem set in Florence but with enough allusions to Eve, Eden, and the Fall to center the reader there as well.
What if it was June. What if no
one ever told her she was beautiful. What if
it was so hot that the pear’s juice dried in sticky
tracks down her long wrists. What if that didn’t stop
her from chasing over them with her tongue. Yes.
It’s a short collection of just eighteen pieces, and towards the end I kept hoping for more myth poetry—the recognizable ones clustered at the beginning of the chapbook and, if there were others, they were too subtle (though well-written) for this reader. Durrant’s ability to question the old stories, imagining biblical wives and Greek goddesses in unexpected ways, was so enjoyable to me that I wanted even more of them. With a talented voice like Durrant’s, hopefully there are many more to come.