“Imagine Sispyhus happy.”
That’s the title of one of Nicole Sealey’s many poems about life, death and the search for meaning in her debut poetry collection, “Ordinary Beast.” (It is also the final line of a famous
“Ordinary Beast” is also populated by myths, whether stories from ancient Greece or legends from America’s indigenous communities. Sealey employs these myths, she said, to widen a small moment contained within the poem into something more.
“The collection as a whole does this thing where it connects people and connects things that wouldn’t otherwise be connected,” she said. “To reiterate the fact that we are all interconnected.”
Questions of life and death (as well as myths) are all in Sealey’s “Virginia is for lovers,” a poem anchored in a small but scary exchange with a friend. While the poem begins at a modern-day gay pride picnic in Virginia, it leaps back in time to a legend about a raid by the Shawnee Tribe. And it ends, as many of Sealey’s poems do, with an image of compassion.
“I think we are all writing the same poem, which is what it means to be human,” said Sealey. “These questions take a lifetime and we won’t get an answer. I will grow and only add more questions.”
Imagine the Greek mythical figure, the sentence asks us, pushing his giant boulder up a hill — a seemingly meaningless and ceaseless task. And yet imagine him happy. Imagine Sispyhus content because he accepts, and understands, that life can be both difficult and absurd.
These existential questions weave through much of Sealey’s new collection, which, she said, grew out of her obsessions, “with life, how we live it and death. That, and: Are we being human to one another? Are we being our best? And how?”