cover image Some Ether

Some Ether

Nick Flynn. Graywolf Press, $14 (85pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-303-2

A troubled mother with a drug problem who ultimately commits suicide, her menacing boyfriends, and a wayward father populate--and come to dominate--Flynn's debut. In these 48 free verse narratives and lyrics framing a plain American vernacular, memory can seem almost a compulsion: ""I don't want// to remember her/ reaching up for a kiss, or the television// pouring its blue bodies into her bedroom."" Though many of the poems' recollections are considerably starker than these, Flynn never becomes overly graphic or macabre with this potentially overwhelming material, skirting unbridled confessionalism or mawkish sentimentality through quick successions of imagery. The drawback in Flynn's approach, however, is that it limits the poems to dramatization and description, and provides little room for more complex characterizations or insights about the small-scale tragedies depicted. Charged figurative language does make its way in, however, sometimes touched with surrealism. Such dazzling surface effects sometimes come off as mannered and opportunistic, as in a stylized dramatic monologue of the mother handling her gun, ""the hard O of its mouth/ made of waiting, each bullet/ & its soft hood of lead. Braced// solid against my thigh, I'd feed it/ with my free hand, my robe open// as if nursing, practicing/ my hour of lead, my letting go."" Flynn occasionally departs from such dramas, but the dark tone and themes of loss and impermanence persist through recurrent references to disasters--plane crashes, shipwrecks, floods--that can't quite expand the range of the poems. This first collection nevertheless presents an earnest sounding out of painful losses, and an honest feeling out of survival and selfhood. (June)