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ATOMIC FIELD by Nicholas Christopher


by Nicholas Christopher

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-15-100553-2
Publisher: Harcourt

Christopher, a writer based in New York, is the author of six previous collections of poetry, three novels, and a study of film noir. He also edited the anthologies Walk on the Wild Side: Urban American Poetry Since 1975 and Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets. In this book he writes 45 poems for each of two years, 1962 and 1972. In 1962 he was 11, `shooting tin cans off a barrel with a pellet gun` and sneaking surreptitious shots at swallows on telephone wires. This adolescent year is detailed in lines that are simultaneously spare and highly charged: “When you leave the room, / its sad heavy furniture, see-through curtains, threadbare carpet, / the television goes off.` Visual details are recorded without editorial comment, seemingly without emotion. Only occasionally does the poet allow himself even a simile: `The street cleaner, the milkman, the postman, / they’re all coming, one by one, in uniform, / like the stragglers at the end of a parade that passed long ago, / or the first scouts in an army that will never arrive.” Because the writing is so unadorned and plainspoken, its impact sneaks up. By 1972, at 21, the poet has experienced dropping acid, chain-smoking, and making love in bare rooms. There is a wanderjahre in Europe, chronicled with an equally objective eye. In Barcelona, before heading home to Manhattan, he reflects: `the bright blur / which occasionally occupies some corner of my sleep / or catches my eye from a speeding train / may be my own soul escaping me, / as it must, many times in this life, / each time slipping a little farther away.`

Honest and powerful, this kind of writing cuts through complacency like a knife.