Gale Marie Thompson is the author of Soldier On (Tupelo Press, 2014) and two chapbooks, Expeditions to the Polar Seas (Sixth Finch) and If You’re a Bear, I’m a Bear. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Souvenir, Columbia Poetry Review, Better, They Will Sew the Blue Sail, Volt, Best New Poets 2012, Guernica, and others. She edits Jellyfish Magazine and writes, teaches, and lives in Athens, GA.
National Poetry Month Essaylet—Stevie Nicks, Serial Poems, Voyager, and the Arecibo Message
Out of the almost impossible range of choices, I think the thing I love most about Stevie Nicks is that she just can’t finish a damn song.
While this isn’t one hundred percent true, certain songs like “Sara,” “Angel,” and “Storms” seem to carry on and on far past when the typical “song” might have finished, reaching farther and farther out into the recording space. Past the easy ending, out comes something else; then we’re allowed to sit with it; then here comes another phrasal unit, all relatively disconnected from previous lyrics, but seem to envelop image after image into what’s already been presented in the “main” song. A pinwheel of a song, given that we have enough air to keep it going, until finally she fades out (Lindsey’s doing, I’m sure). I love that. It’s walking through the snow, slowly, only enough to keep from freezing to death. It’s refusing to let us (or Lindsey) off the hook. I think of these endings as why I am so fixated on longer, serial poem types, particularly those in the female voice, and really, why I write poems at all.
“Storms,” for example: already haunting and hollow and a kind of clawing out, the satisfying ending would be:
so I try to say goodbye, my friend
I’d like to leave you with something warm
but never have I been a blue calm sea
I have always been a storm
Instead, we reach this ending and we stall, hesitate, hover over this moment for a second—(Susan Howe, in My Emily Dickinson: “HESITATE from the Latin, meaning to stick. Stammer.”)—then she moves on. We receive a string of phrasal fractures, beginning with “We were frail,” then moving on to unit after unit (“I should have known from the first,” “I’d be the broken hearted,” “I’ve loved you from the start,” “Save us,” “And not all the prayers in the world / could save us”), all about 15 seconds apart from each other. We become stuck, then we break free, only to become stuck, calling out, again.
I am thinking of the Arecibo Message, broadcasted from Puerto Rico in 1974 toward globular star cluster M13. It contains codified information about us for extraterrestrial species to receive, and a reply will come, at the very earliest, in 25,000 years. When we learned that Voyager 1 had left the heliopause and truly entered interstellar space, Golden Records—with a calling out from 1970s Earth—intact, I thought to myself: “and the starling flew for days.” That’s a line from “Sara.” What am I doing but a continual calling out, and then a wait, a calling out, and then a wait. When we shine a beam of light out into absolute darkness, the only way we’ll be able to see it is if something with visible mass interrupts it. Rain, dust, the ground, another person. Who I am only exists in my points of contact, in what is reflected back.
Taking into account any live version of one of these songs, and you’ve got a performance time that rivals a Phish jam session or Metallica drum solo. “Sara” in particular, on recent tours, includes a Buckingham/Nicks slow dance interlude and a microphone switch in which Lindsey sneaks up behind Stevie and smells her hair. But that’s another story.