Letter to Leonard Cohen by Nancy Hechinger

Nancy Hechinger’s chapbook has been a favourite re-read on my London commute. Like Kitty Jospé, Hechinger and I shared many a workshop roundtable in the Pacific University MFA program. And like Jospé, her work has rocketed forward in depth and quality owing to that time. But Hechinger’s poems embody a different take on femininity–a punchy, NYC-bred divorced-and-single-womanhood that is tough and tender all at once, where “we still sleep and read on the side of the bed / that was always ours, wonder if coming / alone is worth the pain of memory.” (“Early December”)

These are poems of homosocial collusion and collision. In “Jacks” the speaker tells us, “My mother was nifty, cool, gorgeous, / could scoop up fours-ies easy as ones-ies. / She was so close, I could almost touch her.” And “When Wives Dream,” she tells us, “We roared. / We snorted. The men turned around / to find out what was so funny. / We shut right up, stood, smoothed our skirts, / rearranged the salads, and asked them when / the hell the chicken would be done.”

But this short, snappy collection gains even keener focus when treating the rougher sex, who smell like “cumin” and “leather in the sun.” (“The Smell of Men”) In “Squirrel,” a woman friend delivering a coup de grâce to the trapped and suffering rodent “became a Jinjaweed raider, / a stromtrooper on Kristallnacht, / she entered all the killing fields / of history, and for the first time in her life / she began to understand men.”

In the riveting and terrible “Alone in Africa and Therefore the World,” the speaker’s violent evasion of an attempted rape becomes an allegory of womanly power, focused on the “orange bud” of the cigarette she smokes after the speaker knocks her attacker unconscious and barricades herself in her room, “dragging the killing fire / closer and closer to my face.”

Besides violence, desire pervades this collection, as she tells the iconic crooner in her “Letter…” that “They say you were a womanizer, / I hope that’s still true.”

As seductive as a Manhattan night, and as direct as a prizefighter’s jab, Hechinger lands a series of poems that will leave you aching for more.