Hush by Nikki Ummel
Review by Cid Galicia
Belle Point Press
Publication: October 2022
In the chapbook Hush, Nikki Ummel guides readers through the neighborhoods, bars, and backyards of New Orleans–while simultaneously the streets, alleyways, and rooms of her own life as a partner, mother, sister, and queer woman. Readers travel the lived realities of medical recovery and support for her sister, hurricanes, and the ever-stretching diversity of today’s family dynamics. There is joy, but that joy is not a shield of denial to hide behind from real-world experience. Through these poems, she offers us truths of living with struggle and love in the heart of The Big Easy.
Many writers use their first pages to coax the reader’s attention and adoration–offers of pleasures, happiness, or wealth of life that can be lived vicariously. Truth is never avoided in New Orleans, and truth is never avoided in Nikki’s writing. Her opening poem, My Sister’s Double Mastectomy, adheres to this. The reader follows Nikki’s observations of her sister’s recovery as she struggles to identify with her new body that looks and feels now so distant and strange.
She is relearning comfort…
This is not her body, or wasn’t,
but now is…
She pulls his four year old body
to her recessed chest but us unable to staunch his giggles.
To the many readers who have experienced the same personally, or have had friends/siblings that have, in which they also had to painfully observe–Nikki’s poems offer a sanctuary of empathy.
At the same time, Nikki is also a laughter igniter. One of my favorite poems is Eleven. In this poem, Nikki writes through the narrative lens of a young adolescent girl nearing one of the physical thresholds of womanhood, her first period and also through a mother with concern for this coming too soon for her daughter. What I love about this poem is the simultaneous dialogue of prayers to the Virgin Mother. Spoken as a reflection of the two, one of high anxiety and the other of youthful female ferocity!
Hail Mary / full of grace / am I blessed
amongst women too? / And my fruit /
Buds / Holy Mother / but it’s too soon.
Hail Mary / full of grace / bless me
Mother of mothers / make me a woman too.
The narrative poetic craft of setting, characters, symbols, and humor are so strongly etched within this poem. We are pulled into the duality of the two characters so deeply, we cannot help but leave this poem with hope and a bit of laughter.
Throughout this book Nikki artfully covers the full canvas of poetic expression as she guides the reader through her words and stories down the pages and into the hearts, hopes, worries, and fears of each poem.
Nikki Ummel is an active advocate of poetry in her New Orleans community. She is a writer, editor, educator, and laughter-igniter to those who find themselves in her creative wake. Assistant Editor for Bayou Magazine, UNO & Xavier University Instructor, and most recently co-founder of the reading series lmnl lit. Nikki has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and twice awarded the Academy of American Poets’ Andrea Saunders Gereighty Poetry Award. She is the 2022 winner of the Leslie McGrath Poetry Prize. Nikki has been published, or will soon be, in Painted Bride Quarterly, The Adroit Journal, The Georgia Review, and more. Her second chapbook Bayou Sonata, NOLA DNA, is forthcoming Spring 2023.
Hush is available now from Belle Point Press.