Book Review: The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone

A highly experimental second collection from poet Nancy K. Pearson.

[Katie Noble | Entertainment Editor]

Despite having dabbled in and out of contemporary poetry over the last couple years, I do still very much consider myself to be a newbie. Which is probably not the best stance when going into Nancy K. Pearson’s newest collection, The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone. Exploring the possibilities of recovery and transformation, our speaker attempts to reconcile their past as part of a world in which “words cease to matter.”


“The trees remember what grows back but I don’t dream like that. To
know a distance I use my hands. I’m out of reach or touch. I talk to myself.”

– “earthworm”

Don’t get me wrong, this collection has many of the features that I consider when looking for my next poetry collection – I like to purchase my poetry and so I’m quite careful with my money. It has an intriguing title, a beautiful cover, and promise of emotional depth and experimental style. However, I cannot help but get the feeling that this is just a little bit too experimental for my current sensibility.

“Oh honey bee, 

I miss you, for one thing,

complaining all summer.

The trees get so quiet with their ruin.”

– “hardwoods”

The Whole is written almost entirely in free verse, something not uncommon with poetry (and something I usually enjoy), but something that I feel really affected my perception of this collection. Some poems were even large, uninterrupted paragraphs of text. With this in mind, I found with many of the poems that the concepts being uncovered between the lines were often distant and hard to connect without the aid of regular rhyme. It sometimes felt that a poem had been constructed with completely unrelated phrases. I can appreciate that poetry is a highly subjective art but something in this collection was keeping me locked out. I often felt I was reading lines rather than reading poetry and I don’t feel that I ever quite connected with the themes, emotions, or ideas being expressed in the collection. This may seem like an odd criticism considering the quote I chose for this review’s introduction but I would like to make it clear that I very much see what Pearson is trying to do here; it just didn’t work for me. In spite of this, I did really appreciate a couple of the poems; two of which I have quoted above.

Overall, I am unsure whether I can put my negative reading experience down to my immaturity when it comes to poetry or down to it being a poor collection. Nevertheless, I have accepted the learning curve and I am interested in hunting down Pearson’s first collection – maybe that will solidify my opinion.

The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone will be released April 2016 by Fordham University Press. Received for free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Do you have any contemporary poetry suggestions for us? Have you read any of Nancy K. Pearson’s work? Tweet us @TridentMediaUK.

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Book Review: The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone