“Unpack the casket of history:” Hadara Bar-Nadav’s THE NEW NUDITY

by Caroline Crew  ·  July 05, 2018

It is fundamentally human to humanize: we find faces where there are only craters in the moon, we dress our pets in tiny tuxedoes, all manner of inanimate objects are animated by the human behaviour we inject into them. These anthropomorphic tendencies are how we make sense of the world, and, often, what fuels how we tell stories. Hadara Bar-Nadav’s newest collection, The New Nudity, recently released by Saturnalia Books, bears down on this human instinct to animate the inanimate, resulting in a book of poems that lurches from campy humour to deeply disturbing examinations of the ways in which people wield the objects that surround them.

The New Nudity is a profoundly disorienting reading experience— on entering this collection we are met with a stack of flat, single-word titles such “Thumb,” “Tweezer,” and “Jar.” This stacking of objects drives the collection, with poems functioning as discrete units that are connected by virtue of being in the same field of vision. The book begins with an almost humorous tone in the attention given to this most quotidian of objects, as in “Fountain” that opens:

      Dirty, dirty boy,
      what have you done?

      Your bath splattered
      with cigarette butts, leaves

      the droppings of doves.

      No chlorine can clean
      your iron-eating years.

      Eyes peeled open,
      genitals exposed.

Ending with the line, “you wait to be turned on,” this poem encapsulates the early joyousness of The New Nudity. These poems, such as “Soap” that brands the cleanser “Secret crevicer,” radiate a sense of childlike play and wonder, examining the world’s objects and making sense of them without the strictures of functionality. Yet, this wonder cannot last for long in Bar-Nadav’s examination of objects. As the first section wanes and the second section begins, the poems become noticeably both more peopled and darker in tone. Gone are the camp and somewhat whimsical anthropomorphisms of spoons and wineglasses with bodacious curves. The “I” begins to emerge, and, with it, a more complicated relationships with the surrounding objects. “Pill,” opening the second section, emphasizes this shift:

      I have been waiting
      for you, please,

	      insatiable and brittle
	      as a chalk-eater.

      Promise me a bleach-
      clean soul

	      and obliteration.

      Order the orders,
      the hours, the next,

      like my family marched
      to their shoeless deaths. 


Bringing in Bar-Nadav’s Jewish identity and the weight of that history, this poem is emblematic of The New Nudity’s engagement with phenomenology: broadly defined as a philosophy that investigates the nature of experience, and interactions with the objects of that experience. In this way, it is no surprise that the notion of “object portrait” poems becomes darker— these objects are stained by human use, as seen in “Page:” “I have inherited this blighted / alphabet.”

The increasing tension between object and subject that Bar-Nadav builds plays out through the book’s formal tightness. The New Nudity moves almost entirely in taut, short-lined couplets. This formal choice enshrines the book’s relationship what is being seen and who or what is seeing. Bar-Nadav pushes this sense of doubleness with her propensity for repetitive devices—ranging from syllabic repetition to parallelism, as in “Sheet:”

      Your eyes closed.
      (My eyes closed.)

      Cool cheek down
      on the sheet (page),

		color of a blizzard.

      You will end all 
      of your days here

      (I will end all 
      my days here)

Here, the sonic echoes of consonance are woven with the repetitive parallelism of syntax between the you and the me. Similarly, these poems tend toward end-stopping their brief lines, giving a sense of accruing detail, creating a catalogue of experience. It is this formal consistency more than anything else that gives The New Nudity a sense of unity. Throughout The New Nudity, Bar-Nadav guides us to look, to really look, at the physical world we move through on a daily basis. Repeatedly doubling this act of attention, these taut, precise poems mirror back their interrogation to question human behaviour. This is a fascinating and phenomenological reading experience that guides us to find ourselves in the objects we inhabit and touch.


Read poems from The New Nudity at The Rumpus, Willow Springs and American Literary Review.

Purchase The New Nudity from Small Press Distribution here.