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“Only by Your Silence” A review of Phoebe Nilsen’s Without a Kiss

Phoebe Nilsen’s Without a Kiss is a sublimely cohesive chapbook of poetry on what is missing: whether is it that kiss, “three little words,” or the uncaptured moment.

Trains, as both motif and symbol, rumble over rails throughout this exquisite book of loss, missed opportunities, and longing, like the low, sad whistle of a steam engine. Nilsen’s lines embody that wistful yearning in lines, “recover the life that seemed exhaled” from “The Train” and “the distant percussion of a train/against your failing serenade” from Nilsen’s poem “Divided.” In the fleeting moment of a train’s passing, there is what might have been, as Nilsen writes, “had you seen your reflection in my eyes” from her poem “Heritage Canyons.”

Without a Kiss offers a chapbook-length conceit on the train as missed destination, evidenced by regret, a most difficult technical feat, fully realized. There is much that is buried in Nilsen’s language, as well as thematic concerns: that which is found and closed off again, as expressed in the lines “Will future generations unearth your golden casket/when they come digging for the silent past in me?” from her poem “Buried.”

Withholding gifts, love, and connections resonates throughout this beautiful collection, and nowhere more openly than in “Boboli Gardens,” in which the poet’s persona asks, “What monstrous law or fear/ prevented us?”

One thing is certain, Nilsen lets nothing prevent her or hold her back from gorgeously articulating those lost moments: “could not capture the moment” … “sealing a stone that could never be rolled away,” as in her lines from “Easter in Florence.”

“Love’s Cathedral,” Nilsen finds, is “marred only by your silence.”


Nilsen's new chapbook is available for preordering from Finishing Line Press. Here is a link.

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