A reckoning with the past, a bargain with memory, and a prayer for forgetting, What Nothing gives voice to someone for whom sadness is more than a feeling; it’s a place of residence, familiar as a home and strange as a sudden storm. In her debut poetry collection, Anna Meister asks: how do you learn to live in a place like this? For someone who craves oblivion like salt, who knows what nothing is, staying alive is a lifetime of work. She discovers power in recognizing the dark — though naming it doesn’t make it any brighter but provides a way of seeing the shadows and giving them shape. With a persistent tenderness, Meister finds the somethings that lay a path and the someones who will guide the way, as they “queerly [weave] light into all my dark.” This is what we owe to one another: a hand in the darkness, a promise to be there on the other side.
Stagger, I stagger to meet these sensuous, brilliant poems stirring, now, in my branches. Here, form is shaped by urgency, and images carry their own weather and summon The Gone. Such poems sudden the blood, make new openings in the sense–awakening what poems can awaken across registers and feeling. See: “Look how young I was with my silence. Look at the cruel coat it wore.” And: “I know what I’m talking about. / Please don’t die.” They are so true, so idiosyncratic, so strange that I change shape to read them.
-Aracelis Girmay, author of The Black Maria
At the center of Anna Meister’s debut What Nothing is the conjunction “if,” which sets into motion, over and over again, the hope of undoing a traumatic event. The speaker of these beautifully lonely poems chronicles simultaneously the effort to remember and the effort to forget, as if one could will forgetting. She is persuasive in her vivid expression of outrage and pain; she is also tender, vulnerable, resilient, filled with a quiet humor that transforms and deepens the pathos. Wrestling with questions of shame, breakdown, forgiveness, sex, date rape, and love, these poems push into existential inquiry as the speaker writes herself (and others who will find themselves mirrored in these words) back into being, “Counting, while it happens, keeps happening. & after, the washing.”
– Catherine Barnett, author of Human Hours