"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne
-Michel de Montaigne
Friday, August 20, 2010
La Literati Reviews: They May Try to Kill Me for This, by Mathias Nelson
I first discovered Wisconsin poet Mathias Nelson through the 2010 July/August issue of RATTLE. Before I could finish the last stanza of his poem "Dip My Pacifier in Whiskey," I was already flipping to the back of the magazine in search of his author profile. It should have come with a PSA.
Be warned kids. His poems are like crack.
Nelson's debut chapbook combines the effulgence of raging youth with the steadied craft of a mature, contemplative writer. His sense of voice, of self, is as constant as his subjects are variable. At once tender and terrifying, beautiful and brutal, nothing is spared from his acerbic observations. Consider these lines from his poem "Fish Food":
"I was pompous. Saw myself as special--
a suicide over an ice-fisherman's hole,
a stiff body floating beneath that ice
and clawing at it while growling bubbles
as the soles of big clown shoes
to where children made snowangels."
OR this passage describing the slow deterioration of a nursing home patient, in "Enamel Eyes":
"The faces of her family
don't know. Maybe she
doesn't completely know.
Maybe her mind is
like the photographs, gray
taken fifty years ago
The dentures won't go in
today. I begin to sweat,
'Ah,' I say, 'Ah'
and begin to weep.
My tears fall
into her mouth."
In my opinion, it is in instances like these where Nelson shows his potential to be more than just a post-Bukowskian shock jock or mere peddler of images, but rather, a great observer of the human condition.
Certainly, many readers will find amusement, laughter, bewilderment, anger--lots of anger--in several of his poems and be satisfied traversing everything from the cannibalism and near-necrophilia of literary icons to fishing with his nephews. But it is his ability to weave past and present, American history and personal history, and transfigure them into something larger that haunts the psyche, leaving you hungry for much, much more.
Synopsis: this book makes me excited about contemporary poetry. Get your money together and head to the post office, now. Consider it an investment. I have no doubt whatsoever that somewhere in the future we will include Nelson in the lineage of great counter-culture poets before him.
They May Try to Kill Me For This, by Mathias Nelson. Self-published. 36 pages. $5.00. Contact and ordering information at: