by Jesse Nathan ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 5, 2023
An outstanding book of pastoral poetry from an impressive new voice.
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Nathan’s debut collection of poems celebrates farm life.
This book of poems follows a boy’s upbringing that is deeply rooted in the rhythms and ecology of an agrarian existence in rural Kansas. The title object is the sharp structure at the tip of a baby bird’s beak that helps it to hatch. So, too, does Nathan emerge from a childhood on his family’s farm to embark on his journey toward adulthood. The book opens with a cat hiding in the summer heat. “How We Played” recalls boyhood fun across four seasons. Home is a place of wheat fields and well water, where little boys get stuck in the foot with locust tree spikes. The poet’s mother, a teacher as well as a farmer, is an avid gardener who teaches her son that eating “one’s fortunes raw” is a treat. The speaker recalls annually setting up a tent to sell produce, taking the role of cashier. He turns malicious in “Scouts” as he describes an act of hazing against another boy. In “Shock,” the family must deal with the aftermath of a suspected lightning strike to their home during a storm. The poet contemplates the ways silence on the farm can either comfort or torment, depending on one’s mood. The speaker and a female friend, now adults, get their first tattoos: he gets a barn-swallow on the shoulder; she chooses spiral on her ankle. “Love and Ink” explores sexuality: “she’ll tickle your feet / and you’ll lick beneath her ear — / your legs jello, your penis a flower.” The book concludes with the speaker now relocated, calling his parents and receiving updates on the farm in “This Long Distance,” a poem steeped in bittersweet homesickness.
Nathan is a masterful poet—his language is vivid and alive. A cat is “puddled under the boxwood,” a breeze is “quick-footed,” and asparagus “toppled against her knife.” He conjures stinging nettles that “electrify my shins.” His economy of language allows readers to meet multiple characters in a mere four lines: “Auntie, who pronounces it / play-zure as she communes with Sue the drama coach, / and Uncle, who keeps fake owls in his garden, who quizzes / Tom the sheriff (who’s ticklish)” (“Footwashers”). In “If You Draw Rightly on a Wound, It Might Righten,” a stunning description of a first tattoo reads: “ink as blue as bruises may be a kind of trust / sealed and believed.” The speaker sagely concludes, “Maybe certain / pain is meditative.” Each poem paints a striking portrait of rural America. In “Between States,” the speaker walks along a creek in springtime, describing the month of April as “terse breezes, wide-awake-skies, vein-blue tulips” and recalls “Summer as wide as this wildered sky” (“Straw Refrain”). In the poem “In a Churchyard After Dark, with Ruth,” even the gruesome death of a farm boy is made beautiful when rendered by Nathan’s pen: “yanked into a baler, / flew out ribbons.” Though he rhymes frequently, it isn’t in the cloying fashion of a novice poet. And while he provides specific information about his surroundings, from types of flora and fauna to farming practices, the text never reads like an instruction manual—it’s a love letter. A few minor quibbles: There is a recurring character named Justin whose relationship to the author is unclear, and the foreword, by Robert Hass, is so effusive it veers on promotional.An outstanding book of pastoral poetry from an impressive new voice.
Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023
Page Count: 105
Publisher: Unbound Edition Press
Review Posted Online: June 26, 2023
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.
Awards & Accolades
The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.
Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.
Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020
Page Count: 272
Publisher: Celadon Books
Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020
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by Jimmy Buffett ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 1, 1998
Lg. Prt. 0-375-70288-1 This first nonfiction outing from singer/songwriter Buffett (Where Is Joe Merchant?, 1992, etc.) is more food for his Parrothead fans, but there is some fine writing along with the self-revelation. Half autobiography and half travelogue, this volume recounts a trip by Buffett and his family to the Caribbean over one Christmas holiday to celebrate the writer’s 50th birthday. Buffett is a licensed pilot, and his personal weakness is for seaplanes, so it’s primarily in this sort of craft that the family’s journey takes place. While giving beautiful descriptions of the locales to which he travels (including a very attractive portrait of Key West, from which he sets out), Buffett intersperses recollections of his first, short-lived marriage, his experiences in college and avoiding the Vietnam draft, and his brief employment at Billboard magazine’s Nashville bureau before becoming a professional musician. In the meantime, he carries his reader seamlessly through the Cayman Island, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Amazon basin, and Trinidad and Tobago. Buffett shows that he is a keen observer of Latin American culture and also that he can “pass” in these surroundings when he needs to. It’s perhaps on this latter point that this book finds its principal weakness. Buffett tends toward preachiness in addressing his mostly landlubber readers, as when he decries the seeming American inability to learn a second language while most Caribbeans can speak English; elsewhere he attacks “ugly Americans out there making it harder for us more-connected-to-the-local-culture types.” On the other hand, he seems right on the money when he observes that the drug war of the 1980s did little to stop trafficking in the area and that turning wetlands into helicopter pads for drug agents isn’t going to offer any additional help. Both Parrotheads and those with a taste for the Caribbean find something for their palates here. (Author tour)
Pub Date: July 1, 1998
Page Count: 224
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998
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