Check into Hotel Worthy, Valerie Nieman’s new book of poems, and you’ll never want to leave. There abides in its pages an uncanny past wrought into poems that spring from a memory – from a vast, liturgical acumen – that unites the dead with the living, restores the abandoned, returns the missing. Nieman knows the names of things, how those things piece together, how they sunder; and, while she refuses to lie, her truths are exquisite. This is a startling book. The language – its lyric nuance, its plaintive harmonies, its ceremonial beauty – is unforgettable. In the words of the poet, “Each blow of wood on wood / sets ripples on the water: / deo gratias, deo gratias.” Deo gratias indeed – for Hotel Worthy.
From the moment I read the title poem’s breathless rush of poignant reflections, I knew I was in the presence of a poet keen to explore life with searing honesty. Many of the poems take a close look at the natural world and her changing place within it, poems that command attention by paying attention. Especially impressive is the way she regularly dazzles with unexpected juxtapositions of experience. Framing a middling spousal argument in one poem is a riveting vision of an eagle. And although the narrator’s partner notices nothing, we notice, our hearts crushed by the thwarted longing for beauty and reconciliation. Prepare your heart – these are poems that matter.
Valerie Nieman writes so intimately that I wondered if I had written her poems and I wish I had. At the beginning of Hotel Worthy she releases her poems to the universe. In the prose poems her language grows so precise it is haunting. My favorite poem is "Choice of Words" in which she and her father become single in the same year. He is bereft whereas she is divorced, an act which is a "civilized/Coming apart/separated like an egg." Read this book for the surprising images folded into a remarkable journey.
Nieman’s poems almost always embody a mature writer’s keen attention to diction, rhythm, the cadences and silences of poetry...This is an ambitious collection by a talented, experienced poet that deserves serious attention.
At last, a book that states clearly the purpose of life. According to Val Nieman's Hotel Worthy, it's to know things, especially the names for things—Candor peaches, Marvel-of-Peru, pipsissewa. It's a pleasure to hear the quiet, sure voices of these poems, to be caught off guard when some swoop wide at the end like the trumpets of lemon lilies, to be reminded that "the personal . . . holds hands with the larger all the way up."