Kathleen Winter’s Nostalgia for the Criminal Past is a delightful work of re-personalizing the past. How can one remember and write the specificity of a narrative that has been taken over by a communal history—one that has become mankind’s past? What do the expulsion from Eden or Apollo 11 have to do with singularity since their appropriation by a male world? Winter re-personalizes these narratives; her language reaching back to an emotional sensibility accurate to the extent of reworking what we think we know about these common stories. Her wit, humour, and keen poetic eye subtly take over our presumptuous knowledge; the result is a human singularity we didn’t know we were craving so much.
In “Nostalgia for Apollo”, Winter writes:
I miss their elevated heart-rates
at the takeoff, god-like, their views of Earth’s
swirled atmosphere, their cowboy tendency
to terseness, their ticker-tape parades, their quaint
faith in our nation, their quaint male
universe in which I was a lovely
and silent child.
Winter’s detailed descriptive elements in these lines define a speaker presence and an authority of voice that allow an intimacy—as ironic as this intimacy is—that transforms the Apollo mission into a singular experience observed by this “lovely” and “silent” child. The communal and the individual are conflated, their boundaries confused. Yet, the affect is not one of alienation, but rather, perhaps, a rewriting of the difference between what is singular and common. One that carves a space for Winter—and the rest of us—in writing and poetic expression.
The voyeuristic speaker in a “male world” is a common theme in this book. Eve and Eden come up twice, in delightfully humorous and poignant ways. “Morning Poem” is an excellently horrifying account of a car accident. The range of intellectual and emotional work that Winter achieves through preciseness of language and variation of form (she uses both prose poems, long open field-like lines, and sparse short stanzas) make Nostalgia for the Criminal Past an admirable debut and a valuable book of contemporary poetry.