A collection offers diverse poems packed with dramatic imagery.
Nagin (Butterflies Lost Within the Crooked Moonlight, 2017) is a man of many talents. He has directed films and worked the stand-up comedy circuit. Perhaps it is this variety of life experiences that allows the promising poet to write ably in so many different registers in his latest collection of verse. Nagin’s previous book is a thrilling rush; it is indulgent, elaborate, and euphoric. His new volume shows him working in a more restrained mode. But this is no critique: If his poetry here is less effusive, it is also more compressed. Like the gem in the collection’s title, these poems are smaller, brighter, and sharper than those he’s written before. Take as just one example the striking piece “It’s Hard To Write Poetry in a Storm.” The poem opens: “It’s hard to write poetry / when the knife jams in / cowards sing / and you are left awash / like a piece of driftwood.” This brief stanza is a carefully crafted machine wound tight; so much drama bursts forth in the words. All of which isn’t to say that the poet can’t still let loose. He does so in the arresting “Hit By A Car”: “You can see into your arm; strange innards blossoming like a sunflower; / you’re a trillion miles away looking down at yourself before the visage / of identity returns; the pain hot, a strange death in your throat.” In this and similar passages elsewhere, the author’s writing—like the poem’s sunflower—blossoms, flaring out in stunning bursts of detail and emotion. Nagin is drawn to violent imagery, from jamming knives to broken limbs. Yet these details feel less prurient than real and raw. They give readers the sense that something truly valuable is at stake.
A poetic feast as surprising as it is satisfying.