cover image Previously Owned

Previously Owned

Nathan McClain. Four Way, $17.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-954245-26-6

McClain’s insightful second collection (after Scale) interrogates myths of American life. These richly lyrical poems build slowly toward resolutions or eschew them in favor of lingering between reality and imagined ideals. In “The World is Full,” the speaker sees what he initially imagines is a wolf (but is actually a coyote) prowling outside the chicken coop in the backyard; when the speaker overcomes his fear and goes outside, he finds not only dead chickens but also a cold truth: “I believed/ I could save them, or that saving them/ meant I loved them, that my love was good/ for something.” Employing a circular syntax, “The Sentence” accumulates clauses in a way that suggests multiple meanings simultaneously: “A him may function/ as a subject, but that depends/ upon the sentence, i.e., A man/ is subject to his sentence.” A series of poems titled “They said I was an alternate” considers the speaker’s experience of jury duty as indicative of the absurdities of the criminal justice system, leading him to wonder “if it wasn’t just another story/ without consequence.” McClain’s poetry has a fablelike quality, asking the reader to see beyond stories that comfort in order to look honestly at the world. These are accomplished and stirring pieces. (Sept.)