The Ants

Post photo courtesy of:

Post photo courtesy of:


The Ants

-Forthcoming Book Reviewed by Kendra Bartell


The scene: a lively underground reading in the heart of Pike Place Market, Seattle. Amidst the buzz and commotion of this year’s AWP conference, representatives of Les Figues, Ahsahta, Drunken Boat and Ugly Duckling Press, gather in The Alibi Room, where the poet Sawako Nakayasu and her Ants are being introduced. The “ants” really are hers.  No doubt about it.

Towards the end of the evening, Nakayasu takes the mic. Unabashed, in the dim light of the room, the author crawls on hands and knees toward the brightest point. There she kneels, reads from her book, and delivers intoxicatingly rich prose. Audiences are entranced by her energy and creative expression.

The poems in The Ants have such an incredible rhythm to them, and hearing them read in Nakayasu’s voice reveals mesmerizing intricacies. Imagine if you will, a tiny woman with a HUGE presence, crouching and reading the following:

The car very car is having a hard very hard very hard time getting started up again, and so we kick it very kick it in its ass very ass and the car is still having a hard very hard time and we are feeling lost all the more lost very lost in this desert very desert…

The room was enraptured by this performance. At the conference the next day, the books (available nationally July 1, 2014) were selling fast. This reviewer was sold.

As a collection, The Ants never disappoints. Through the span of 93 pages, Nakayasu explores an incredibly twisted and astonishing world of weird-yet-banal instances of life. The ants do not necessarily stand in for people in this world, but rather, serve as complements for Nakayasu’s investigations into human experience. Shifting narration and perspective changes provide the mechanism for discovery. At times, the narrator is obviously a human, as she interacts in the world and with the ants. Other moments, however, the narrator takes on a 3rd person omniscient view, focusing on the ants themselves. At still other intersections, a 3rd person limited perspective, derived from an ant’s mind space, is introduced. A form in which readers are complicit with the ant’s consciousness:

An Ant in the Mouth of Madonna Behind Locked Doors

Is there, is there, is there but can’t prove it to anyone, is small, is glistening and black, is determined, is hanging on, is at a loss for a good perch, is wet, is blown by the wind when she takes a breath, is happy, is uncertainly happy, is ardent, is devoted, warm and plenty…

The title blending into this wild narration pulls audiences into the poem immediately. The pace never lets up as readers delve further into the ant’s mind, a viewpoint that, as it turns out, thinks pretty similarly to a person in a time of struggle. An ant, like a human, Nasayaku suggests, “is an optimist at heart,” but “fearful in the moment.” In the above quoted scene, even though this ant is inside a person’s mouth, the insect is also a person trying to complete an arduous task. This amazing perspective of struggle allows Nasayaku to explore the mental trials humans commonly endure.

Many of the poems in the collection span only one sentence. The pacing and syntax in these brief verses, therefore, are carefully metered to keep the poem moving. Clauses build on each other naturally and vividly, creating the incredible stream of conscious that allows readers to identify with the ant and witness to Nasayaku’s penetrating investigation into human thought patterns.

Some readers may weary of the ant-ness or more ant-specific prose, but relief and fresh inspiration are never far off. “Ice Event 2,” for example, describes the physical ordeal an ant colony undergoes when the collective becomes trapped under ice. The distressed tribe must find a new queen to procreate. Unlike the one-sentence perspectives delivered earlier in the book, this poem echoes Thoreaus’ “battle of the ants” observations in an epoch 4 page long prose entry. Here the voice slows down, breaths are taken, and the urgency of the situation that the ants face is depressed by nature’s freezing force. Nakaysu’s engaging style resonates with intense rhythms, depicting bizarre events that develop a genuine connection between her human readers and her ants.

Delightful surprises occur throughout the text and our delivered with astonishing energy. Nakayasu is whimsical, yet her voice resounds of urgency and is immediately relatable, even in a stranger than fiction world where ants can work as communicator decoys and set up colonies inside bodies. The poems are tight knit prose blocks featuring gripping syntax and language. Read on a log, The Ants is the perfect afternoon snack. The prose reaches deep into reader’s minds, exposing humanity’s greatest desires, fears, and wildest thoughts. “The Great desire is to get inside of it—the poem, the painting, the movie, the music,” Nakayasu meditates in “Decay.” This is the recipe for the triumph of her Ants.


Post Photo Courtesy of: