In her third collection of poems, Nancy Jo Cullen once again turns her questing and multidimensional mind to the nature of madness, addiction, impermanence and loss. This confessional collection takes an unflinching look at the path of a life’s destruction to create a harrowing chronicle of bereavement. As Zoe Whittall says, “Nancy Jo Cullen gets to the guts of grief, revealing its complexity with wit and poetic precision.”
In 2006 Nancy Jo Cullen’s life partner died after a long struggle with mental illness and addiction. Untitled Child examines the trajectory of the end of the marriage between the two women and the author tries to understand her role in a series of painful events.
The poems are confessional in the vein of poets such as Anne Sexton. Cullen tries to get inside the skin of the mess of what once appeared to be the perfectly suburban life. Untitled Child is part memoir, part rant and part lament as Cullen examines the rage, grief and surprise about the terrible havoc that addiction can reap on a life.
Nancy Jo Cullen’s Untitled Child pushes the linguistic possibilities of the post-modern lyric with intriguing and powerful results…the book gingerly avoids the standard pitfalls of maudlin self-pity and sensational confessionalism through clever deconstruction of its own narrative structure and musical/linguistic leaps of diction, register, tone and its side-of-the-mouth use of allusion. Critical language melds with lyric tropes, and droll delivery with understatement and the quick, deft cutaway. I wouldn’t say that Ms. Cullen is a language poet, but her work is informed as much by that post-modern set of stratagems as it is by imagism or high realism…She’s never totally abstract or abstruse and she never sacrifices the music to the matter-of-fact tone or droll delivery. Her poetry offers good clean fun, even when dealing with painful subject matter.
Reading Cullen’s poems is a little like drinking booze. Definitely not wine, because it’s not all that genteel, and not beer, because it’s not all that commonplace, but hard liquor because it’s edgy, fast-acting, more than a little disorienting and frequently mixed with something sweet…Cullen understands how we are entertained by our emotions, and this poetry is trained like a laser scope on our limbic systems.
About the Author
Nancy Jo Cullen is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Science Fiction Saint and Pearl. Science Fiction Saint was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry, the Writers Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Steffanson award for poetry and the book publishers Association of Alberta’s best trade book. Pearl won the Alberta book Awards Trade Fiction Book Award and was short listed for The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. Nancy Jo Cullen lives in Toronto where she is at work on an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph–Humber.
Nancy Jo Cullen was the 4th recipient of the Dayne Ogilvie Grant. The grant is given annually to an emerging gay or lesbian writer who demonstrates great promise through a body of work of exceptional quality.
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