Diode Editions is pleased to announce that Nancy Chen Long's full length poetry collection, Wider than the Sky, is now available for preorder.
In her second book Wider Than the Sky, Nancy Chen Long explores the porous and slippery nature of memory and mind, memory’s recursive and sometimes surreal qualities, how recalling one memory resurrects a different memory, which then jumps to another memory, and then another, all connected by the thinnest wisp, as well as the breaches in memory—gaps, erasure, holes, disappearance. The book’s title is from Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Brain—is wider than the Sky—For—put them side by side.” In addition, the Dickinson poem provides a scaffolding for the book: Each of the book’s three sections opens with poems titled “‘Your Brain Doesn’t Contain Memories—It is Memories’.” Together, the three poems comprise a poetic sequence that is a golden shovel of the Dickinson poem and a meditation on memory, touching on the familial, generational, and epigenetic aspects of it.
One of the main motifs of the first section of Wider Than the Sky is that of memory as it relates to a child or childhood or when one was younger. In this section, a dying general remembers a particular mission when he was a fresh-faced fighter pilot in World War II, nymphs speak to Icarus’ father Daedalus after fishing Icarus out of the sea, and the youngest of a sibling group speaks to her missing brother about his twin sister: “Dear brother who has been lost for fifty years, / she’s spotted you a hundred times // wandering barefoot in the mud with a secret in your hand. / But she never finds you.” The second section continues with the motifs of the first and adds into the mix the mind in distress—the confusion and denial experienced by a young adult who is being sued, the aberration of revisionist history that distorts a social group’s collective memory regarding historical events, an adult recalling how she hid in a desert as a child. The third section carries on the preceding motifs, for example the individual and collective mental aberration that attends war. This third section also more openly explores the role of story and its impact on memory, mind, and identity.
Through form and content, the poems in Wider Than the Sky mimic memory, its recursive and sometimes surreal qualities, as well as memory’s mutability—conflicting memories among family members, changes in the collective memory of a society, a buried memory that is resurrected when one catches the scent of a forgotten perfume. The collection explores the role of memory in identity, the human brain’s need for story in order to make sense of the world, and how who we are is, in one sense, a narrative. “If light is to the eye as language is to the / mind, then memories are stories written upon the brain, / & to be written upon is to be forever changed.”
From Rebecca Seiferle, author of Wild Tongue and Bitters:
Reading Wider than the Sky is to encounter a world and a sensibility. With each poem firing as precisely as a synapse, interwoven into one shimmering neural net, Nancy Chen Long’s collection is a richly varied, acutely embodied exploration of how “our life is what our thoughts make it.” Eidetic moments, as vivid as the “star-nosed mole, / its many-fingered nose –a fan of proboscises” ground these poems where a child, finding a perfume bottle that once belonged to her grandmother, is “Suddenly…eating fruit in my memory, faint yellow slivers of stars, / juice running through my fingers.” The universality and specificity of human experience is profoundly felt in these metaphysical poems, interrogating and celebrating how being persists, “forever/home, forever foreign,” despite subjective and collective erasure –its aberrations, its genetic inheritances, its “scorched language,”— “creating/ourselves as we go.”
From Jessica Goodfellow, author of Whiteout and Mendeleev’s Mandala:
Empathic polymath Nancy Chen Long considers wide-ranging topics—from neurology to Emily Dickinson, from the big bang to Bible stories—as she interrogates the role of memory in the formation of our narratives and of our selves. Long portrays fleeting scenes from childhood onward—scenes which momentarily shine a flickering light on life’s big topics: the links between story and belief, forgiveness and biology, society and violence, language and loss. The reader experiences this unforgettable book in the same way a memory is experienced—as incomplete images infused with emotional wholeness, images that swell and recede and leave us changed for having been momentarily immersed in the intimacy between past and present that we call memory.
Further Reading from Wider than the Sky
"First-Time Defendant at Nineteen" and "Altered State at the Grocery Store," Tar River Poetry | forthcoming
About the Author
Nancy Chen Long is the author of Light into Bodies (University of Tampa Press, 2017), winner of the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry, as well as the chapbook Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). She is the recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. Her work was selected as the winner of the 2019 Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award and featured in Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Indiana Humanities. She works at Indiana University in the Research Technologies division.