I Will Not Name It Except To Say
by Lee Sharkey
“In her vibrant I Will Not Name It Except to Say, Sharkey teaches her throat ‘the sounds of a new language.’ Sharkey’s lyrical precision, wild imagery, and heart-breaking tenderness weave connections and trouble, ranging from the pleasures of old love to improvisations on German Expressionism, family memory, a provocative spiritualism, and difficult history. In every poem, Sharkey makes her readers strive with the poet to speak new words and to see through the searing perceptions that Sharkey’s poems have made newly possible.” —Janice Harrington
I Will Not Name It Except to Say deals with loves, rituals, deaths, and creations; it does this with terms and names, at first, and then continues past them.
The title of Lee Sharkey’s new poetry collection suggests that names are important, but only in service of something else. Some poems in this book kick-off from names of artists and their work―like “Fate of the Animals” or “Kollwitz: The Work”―to spiral and expand into other considerations, about what a country is or what it means to create a character in a painting. Other times, poems cut into what is unnamed altogether: Sharkey writes about “banned…words” or “What the news won’t tell” to see something previously missed. In one poem, “X”, Sharkey completely strips specific terms and names from her description―she uses variables, and sees how the unnamed can affect a reader who’s kept completely uninformed.
In this book, names and terms become important because they have to do with memory and history. A city amounts to its personal, cultural history, which needs to be preserved; saving a city consists in collecting and recording its writings, “to keep the people’s memory alive”. In personal family life, keeping a memory―which means keeping names and stories intact―is also a wonderfully, terrifyingly important responsibility. As the speaker realizes for themselves, late in this book: “Soon, I’ll be the only keeper of the memories that made a family. / I don’t trust myself with that much treasure / but here I am, holding out my arms and smiling.”