Review of Hadara Bar-Nadav’s Fountain and Furnace

In Fountain and Furnace, a chapbook of poems published by Tupelo Press in 2015, Hadara Bar-Nadav writes a series of minimalistic couplets that personify ordinary, everyday objects. As with her other works, Bar-Nadav evokes vivid images depicting emotional topics such as isolation, exposure (especially of women’s sexuality), chaos, passivity and purity.

Each poem is about an object, beginning with “Thumb” and going on to “Fountain,” then “Ladder” and “Wineglass.” While these objects themselves don’t seem to share a consistent theme, they are connected by a sense of surreal simplicity.

The content within the poems is frequently easy to relate back to the object, but sometimes the argument of the poem is unclear. This usually happened when Bar-Nadav tried to describe the object physically, especially at the very beginning of each poem. For example, in “Spoon” she writes (in couplet form), “Dimpled by an egg/ whose weight vanished/ Where a cloud/ once rested its head/ Cradle of the absent/ eye, silver socket,” which is a good physical descriptor, but doesn’t give a clear sense of how to feel about spoons aside from a vague idea of emptiness. Later in the poem, she goes into this more clearly. “A furless girl/ without arms/ She throws back/ Her hollow head/ Flashes the length/ of her singular leg.” This alone gives a physical sense of the object and also a more abstract one that are intertwined more directly.

Bar-Nadav’s poems are able to avoid repetition by varying the point of view of the narrator by poem. “Spoon” seems to be written simply about the object, but other poems will talk directly to the object or as the object. For example, in “Nightgown” the poem opens, “The seams of me/ untethered, plucked.” with the narrator being the nightgown. “Motel” is one where the narrator is speaking to or at the motel, “You are cornflower pale/ and cracked./ Lightly pimpled, you bat/ an occasional eyelash.”

A review by Peter Stitt, editor of The Gettysburg Review, on the back of the book uses the phrase “minimalist essence,” and this is a good way to describe Bar-Nadav’s writing. She will generally say what she needs to within a stanza, and then quickly move on to the next idea. However, sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between emotional and physical descriptors that can hinder a poem’s clarity. Regardless, Bar-Nadav provides a way to transpose into a new understanding of objects in an interesting and purposeful way.