Power-Word Wiz Kocot: Traces of Plath—Or Snuffelufagus?


The spectrum of contemporary poetry can get unreadably dark on both the random and cryptic ends. As if to make sure her poems get enough light, Noelle Kocot depicts bright multicolored things touching the sky throughout The Raving Fortune, her second collection of soluble enigmas.

In piece after piece studded with power words from soul and beauty to hell and heaven, Kocot goes after the big feelings latent in train rides, a friend’s poems, even in long-term relationships.

Imagine Rilke with a sense of humor, and you’re halfway ready to hear “A chicken cooked under happy circumstances/Is a chicken that lasts forever,” then see the stubbiness of “the sawed-/Off light of the candelabrum,” and catch your breath at her prediction that “false empathy will be wielded/Like a blowtorch through a box of cake mix/Toward the one of us who survives the other.”

Though this may be the product of a dramatic streak to rival Sylvia Plath’s, she’s self-aware enough to note (in “Civilization Day”) that “it’s easier to say/I have this or that to do instead of simply,/I am always in pain.” She can be simultaneously brutal and self-glorifying, too, as when she begins “The Maddest Kind of Love” with “Two retarded men are kicking off their shoes,” and ends it “I want to save the world.” Her contemporaneity is more deliciously off when she uses Snuffelufagus as the end word in a sestina, announces that “Long Black Veil” was her shower song, or writes an ode to the person who, during a subway bomb threat, pickpocketed her Tao Teh Ching.

In a year that’s seen Franz Wright take the Pulitzer for his limpid, almost simple poems wedding European symbolism and American melodrama, Kocot’s melancholy cascades of gorgeous imagery play like Chopin to Wright’s Satie.