Book Review: Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis

Becoming JudasBecoming Judas by Nicelle Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hypothetically, do you prefer compassion squarely pegged, or unconventionally rendered? If your answer is, “squarely pegged,” then Becoming Judas, Nicelle Davis’ second full-length book of poems, invites closer inspection and warrants your consideration; if “unconventionally rendered” more suits your style, then this is the book for you. A fascinating foray into iconographic studies, Becoming Judas examines, interprets, questions, challenges, and re-invents the iconography of as unlikely a conflagration as one can envision — a trio of characters (still) shrouded in enduring myth: Judas, the “betrayer,” Jesus, the “betrayed (?)” and John Lennon, who imaginably stands in for “everyman.”

Contemplate for a moment if you will, the Pietá: a persistent motif and one of the most revered icons in all Christendom, which depicts a sorrowful mother cradling the dead body of her adult son. Stripped of its classic interpretation as the Virgin Mary embracing Jesus’ frame, we are left with the image of a woman, any woman, grieving over the corpse of a man, any man. In one of the most novel conceits for a poem I’ve ever encountered, Ms. Davis offers up “The Woman Who Cut Judas Down” which presents us instead with a Pietá for Judas: “This body strung/ from a branch could be anyone―/ even hers.” Looking toward our commonalities, rather than expounding on our differences, even Judas had a mother, as we all do; which suggests that whatever his “sins,” may have been, even Judas deserves a Pietá.

Another poem in the collection, “Flash: Leibovitz’s Photo of John and Yoko,” studies a type of image, the Polaroid, to explain the culture it originated in, rather than the other way around. The poet aptly describes the composition of the famed photograph, and delivers with it this account: “Together they have survived each other…His legs, bent into inverted V’s, encase/ her torso. Captured: the sight of a man becoming a shrine.” What we are looking at in Becoming Judas, then, is the content of the images, through the artistic lens of the poet’s sensibilities, as she queries aloud our insatiable need, “to conceive an understanding/ of what all this suffering is for.”

Although the majority of the poems contained herein remain accessible, (like the two previously discussed) a few are necessarily difficult, both in terms of intellectual rigor and emotional content. The images are compelling, but hard to look at. Nonetheless, like witnesses passing by a collision in heavy traffic, or viewing televised war coverage, we also cannot bring ourselves to look away. I read right through Becoming JudasBook Bite_cropped in one sitting, as I could not put down. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it, including the “difficult” poems, entirely worth the effort. The imagery is spectacular. And if that weren’t enough already, the pencil drawings contributed by Cheryl Gross, and the inventive use of line breaks and white space to create “concrete” poems (that form images of their own on the page) deliver value-added bonus features. I heartily recommend this book.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. What if you’re an unconventional square, like me? I guess you’d like the book twice as much, and I do. I agree with your assessment. It’s strangely easy and difficult at the same time. The Liebovitz poem is one of my faves.

    Reply

  2. Posted by consuelom on August 25, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks, Anne!   Great review of her book. Where does Nicelle live?  

    Consuelo    Consuelo  Marshall P.O. Box 12742 Flagstaff, AZ 86011 ciunder@yahoo.com  

    >________________________________ > From: Voice in the Wilderness >To: ciunder@yahoo.com >Sent: Sunday, August 25, 2013 3:21 PM >Subject: [New post] Book Review: Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis > > > > WordPress.com >Anne Yale posted: “Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis My rating: 5 of 5 stars Hypothetically, do you prefer compassion squarely pegged, or unconventionally rendered? If your answer is, “squarely pegged,” then Becoming Judas, Nicelle Davis’ second full-length book of poems,” >

    Reply

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