Essential Tremor


By Barbara Nickel

Categories: Poetry
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781773860602, 80 pages, April 2021

Award-winning poet Barbara Nickel returns with a contemporary and enchanting reflection on the many manifestations of the body--human life, the divine, and the world.


Taking the name of a nervous system disorder that causes involuntary shaking, Essential Tremor undertakes an exploration of the body that holds disruption at its heart. The captivating and timely poems in Essential Tremor attend to many bodies--the body of the world, changing, unreachable, at times momentarily illumined; the human body, loved, ill, mourning, passing or passed from this world; and the divine body, questioned, encountered and not, sought by people from the margins in the body of a biblical palimpsest.

In her third collection, award-winning poet Barbara Nickel blends sonnets in sequences and scattered stand-alones with more formal innovations and extensions--erasures of the notes accompanying da Vinci's anatomical drawings, lines found from Beethoven's autopsy, and the musings of poet isolating in the midst of a twenty-first-century pandemic. Nickel asks her readers to consider the many facets of the body, how it finds the words, lines and poems that together form an essential life, a gift among our deepest wounds and terrors.


"Like Wallace Stevens, invoked through epigraph and structural echo in Essential Tremor, Barbara Nickel grapples with the relation between spirit and the world of sensation in this compelling new book. Her brilliant sonnet sequence, "Corona," is likely to stand among the finest (most nuanced) art to emerge from this harrowing time. Equally powerful is the consonantal riffing of her poem-set focusing on the body and its parts (sacrum/sacred). Sonically rich, formally adept, and allusively dense, Essential Tremor widens out to consider the nature of the body, of suffering, and of compassion through time. The vision is unsparing, yet leavened by grace."

--Mary Dalton, Poet Laureate of the City of St. John's