cover image Aim at the Centaur Stealing Your Wife

Aim at the Centaur Stealing Your Wife

Jennifer Nelson. Ugly Duckling Presse (SPD, dist.), $14 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-937027-51-3

In a debut notable for its delightfully volatile free verse, Nelson tumbles back and forth between the slangy, plugged-in anxieties of a post–Great Recession generation and the resources of traditional art history. “There’s a discussion about death in my newsfeed,” Nelson muses, and nothing can furnish lasting help—neither the mythic etchings of Giovanni Batista Tiepolo, nor “the films of Wong Kar Wai,” nor Pollaiuolo’s “Hercules” to which Nelson’s title refers. Instead, knowing references to the old world, where appearances were stable and “even winter/ roads store sun,” collide with the digitized new. “Gather your sandals/ before a bot browses you,” cautions one poem; “Facts are no longer important.” As if that giddy declaration of independence from old standards weren’t warning enough, Nelson also derives five chatty sonnets from Billy Idol’s cheesy 1982 hit “White Wedding.” Engaging and scattered, Nelson’s compositions display the techniques and attitudes of a restless generation. But as an art historian, Nelson’s references are hardly casual and her past-and-present, mixed-brow mash-ups are more than just a joke about how modern overstimulated, Instagrammed, anxious lives can learn from the fears and symbols that came long before: “those days/ when history has been erased between/ today and a particular past.” (Dec.)