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SOME ETHER by Nick Flynn


by Nick Flynn

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-55597-303-5
Publisher: Graywolf

Flynn lives in Brooklyn and is a member of Columbia University’s Writing Project. His essays and poems have been published in a variety of distinguished periodicals. This collection marks his debut. Although, as a general rule, there’s little reason for hope when three of the four opening poems deal with suicide, in this case our expectations are happily belied. In fact, these first poems are first-rate. Flynn’s perspective is from the slightly cocky stance of one who has survived by his own wits, not the flinching cower-and-cringe attitude so popular among victims of fate. His poetry fights back in a style that, for all its toughness, is compassionate, and his verse is grounded in gritty details—not (despite the title) ethereal abstractions. He has an ability to speak in the vernacular while remaining articulate. Perhaps most irritating to his academic colleagues, Flynn engages in that low-prole entertainment known as humor. It may be that there’s no devil in Flynn’s cosmology to explain the misfortune that afflicts people, but (quoting folksinger and theologian Tom Waits) he suggests that it’s “just God when he’s drunk.” Unfortunately, perhaps owing to the average reader’s saturation with trauma and dysfunction, the volume begins to weigh too heavily. The grittiness begins to seem as though it were airbrushed on—as though the author no longer lived in the poems but was merely slumming.

Despite some unevenness, though, these are good poems about survival—a topic most will find far more interesting than the breast-beating sanctimoniousness of victimhood.