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daniel nester

Welcome to Day 13 of National Poetry Month. 32 Poems is celebrating by sharing five favorite poetry books each day this month in order to:

1. Promote contemporary and, hopefully, new-to-you books.

2. Promote the work of the writers taking the time to recommend their favorite books.

Please consider ordering the recommended books and also checking out the work of the recommenders. We include a bio at the end of each post.

With no further ado, Daniel Nester shares his five favorite poetry books:

  1. Amanda Nadelberg, Isa the Truck Named Isadore. A tour-de-force of a debut. From the first time I read her poems, I published it every chance I could get. Check out her sestina here.
  2. Barbara Louise Ungar, Charlotte Brontë, You Ruined My Life. My colleague at The College of Saint Rose writes a poem-cycle on “was-bands,” life, love. Torch songs au go-go.
  3. Jeanann Verlee, Racing Hummingbirds. When will we finally admit so-called slam poets can hang with we elbow-patchers on the page? This is a good place to start.
  4. Julie Carr, 100 Notes on Violence. A big leap forward from an already forward-looking poet. This is an important book.
  5. M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! I just ordered this, so I can’t offer a blurb. I’ve just heard good things about it—use of source materials with poems. Looking forward to reading this.

BIO: Daniel Nester is the author of How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of humorous nonfiction. His first two books, God Save My Queen and God Save My Queen II, are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His work has appeared in a variety of places, such as Salon.com, The Morning News, McSweeney’s, The Daily Beast, Time Out New York, and Bookslut, and has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2003, The Best Creative Nonfiction, and Now Write! Nonfiction. He is an associate professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. He is managing editor of the group culture-slash-literature blog We Who Are About To Die. Find him online at danielnester.com and on Twitter.

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“I don’t understand this talk of Coltrane being difficult to understand. What he does, for example, it to play five notes of a chord and then keep changing it around, trying to see how many different ways it can sound. It’s like explaining something five different ways.”
—Miles Davis

It’s a slippery slope, down (or up) from poetry to prose poetry to the essay to so-called lyric and experimental essay to personal essay to memoir-autobiography to romans a clef to novel to movie to kitchen sink novel to miniseries.

“Genres are not to be mixed.
I will not mix genres.
I repeat: Genres are not to be mixed. I will not mix them.”
—Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre.” Critical Inquiry, Volume 1, Number 1, 1980. Translated by Avital Ronell

I do remember those days in Virginia when I first met Reamy and we started talking about writing essays. I would see his light on. I started writing at night, a seperate project from writing capital-P Poems, writing at night for the love of it. I’m writing about Queen, I whispered to him one day. I brought him in my writing room, an old milking stall from the building’s farm days, showed him my records and CDs. I remember not wondering nor worrying what genre my writing would end up, or if it would end up at all; rather, whether the writing gave me pleasure.

I wasn’t writing about Queen per se; rather, what I speculated about the subject and my relations with it. There were no beginnings and endings; there were no line breaks; sometimes there were no methods. I was, in short, writing essays.

“Nature,” Gertrude Stein once said, “is commonplace. Imitation is more interesting.”
Don’t get me wrong: I fall firmly in the form-is-nothing-more-than-an-extension of content column. It’s just that more than once I was referred to as one of writers without any content at all, a “writer without a subject,” who wrote for the language only. As if there were anything wrong with that. But I knew I had several subjects. I just so happens that one of them is a post-glam period rock band who wrote anthems still sung in football stadiums.

I don’t know if that was the winter when I stopped being “just a poet” and or if I just became a “writer.” What I do know is that I suspect all these obsessions over genre, over what’s-in-a-name, are simply more of those neverending either-or writer conversations that exist for writers to write more.

Do you write with a computer or in longhand?
Are you raw or cooked (Robert Lowell)?
Are you a fox or a hedgehog (Isaiah Berlin)?

“Like many others, I grew up in an age which preached liberty and built slave camps. Consequently, reformers of all varieties terrify me. I only need to be told I’m being served a new, improved, low-fat baked ham, and I gag.”
—Charles Simic, The Poet’s Notebook

Many poets seems to need these either-ors to get them started, some reassurance they’re standing on someone else’s common ground. It’s not enough they write poems; instead they need to know they are writing the right kind of poem. Poets Like Us.

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Daniel Nester is the author of God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and God Save My Queen II (2004), both collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen, as well as The History of My World Tonight (BlazeVOX, 2006). He’s working on an essay collection and a memoir, and works as an assistant professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Find more about him at http://www.danielnester.com.

Reamy Jansen is Professor of English and Humanities at Rockland Community College SUNY. He is a past Vice President of the National Book Critics Circle. For fifteen years, he has been a Contributing Editor to The Bloomsbury Review of Books and is co-editor of its new, short prose section, The Out of Bounds Essay. His poetry and personal essays have been published in a variety of literary magazines and he has received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize. He can be reached through the Poets & Writers Directory.

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