3-Minute Book Review: Jeff Alessandrelli on Melissa Cundieff

Three-Minute Book Review: Jeff Alessandrelli on Melissa Cundieff’s Darling Nova (Autumn House Press, 2018)

  • If planted in the ground Melissa Cundieff’s Darling Nova would birth an odd concoction of savory and sweet, a mixing of amorphous physical form beyond colorless feathers and nostalgia-less wistfulness. In the poem “Everything Cruel Is Also Real” Cundieff writes, “I want to give you my hand in place of the wide sky—/the kite spread out against infinity, soundlessness telescoping/ through distance” and Darling Nova lives in a wide world where the infinite can be both beyond conception and held tight in one’s hand.


  • The film adaptation of Darling Nova would star Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart, the former’s air of solemnity providing counterbalance to the latter’s half-bumbled insouciance. Darling Nova is not a joyous collection of poems so much as a necessary one, a book that exists to tie family with love with disappointment at the extent of how deeply and truly one can love, year by month by day by hour.

    To wit, Cundieff’s poem “As Beginning, As End” starts:

When my daughter says she wants her infancy back

I say I would go back too, when I could still hold her,

when I could speak saturnine and aloud, like this:

Someday I will vanish inside you. You will

think of me like an ocean in a shell. And then, too,

my tired nonsense: You’re a bird. You’re a bird.

 And finishes:

We have left each other

for each other. The body wishes. The body is a wish.


  • Within such once-in-a-lifetime roles Novak and Stewart would disappear, only to find that their filmic roles are no different than their everyday ones; leaving each other for each other, from the kitchen to the bedroom to the living room and back again. In Darling Nova, desire is a death wish that we all keep blowing out the candles for constantly.

  • If given the opportunity, Darling Nova would slow dance slowly and deliberately, resting its shoulder on every decision—good, bad, or otherwise— it has ever made. But never indecision, never regret. Cundieff’s book lives to stand strong—as she writes in the “Green,” the final poem in the collection, “…sometimes the boundaries/ we encounter are not real.” Darling Nova, though, serves to displace those boundaries—through the wide din of time, the poems in Cundieff’s book will last.


Jeff Alessandrelli is the author of the poetry collections THIS LAST TIME WILL BE THE FIRST (2014) and Fur Not Light (2019), both from Burnside Review Press. Just published in the US and UK in March by the UK press Eyewear, Jeff’s also the author of the essay collection The Man on High: Essays on Skateboarding, Hip-Hop, Poetry and The Notorious B.I.G. Recent work by him appears in The American Poetry Review, Pleiades and Please Kill Me, among other outlets. Additionally, Jeff runs and directs the vinyl-record only poetry press Fonograf Editions; recent albums have been released by Alice Notley, Harmony Holiday and Rae Armantrout.

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