BooksWeekend

Nicolas Hundley’s Heretical Machinery

Nicolas Hundley is a poet of pronouns. In many of his poems and prose poems, a pronoun ­– he, they, you, and we – is central to each line or sentence. This is how the prose poem, “The Blood You Let,” begins:

The blood you let coagulated into amber. You enlisted leeches,
siphon, syringe – but still feel weak, foolish transparent, bureau-
cratic, and, in the end, remained the infanta. You sought mir-
rors, gained mirrors, took on mirrors and the endless corridors.

Hundley’s use of you becomes a distancing device, which later enables him introduce other pronouns, “we,” “they,” and “I.” But the “you,” who is lying in a hospital bed, is the center around which the other pronouns orbit. Given the circumstances, the reader should consider why the poem doesn’t culminate so much as stop: “They went for tubes, for a length of tubing, and at this I had to intervene.” For all the sparks generated by Hundley’s juxtapositions, a lot of what goes on in his poems isn’t immediately apparent.

When Hundley uses “I,” the reader is apt to imagine that the author is seeing himself from a distance – that he has opened up a space between himself and the sentient voice in the poem, or that he has conjured a figure whose existence is bounded by the poem, or both. Imagine Frank O’Hara’s “I do this, I do that” mixed with one of Samuel Beckett’s miserable characters – a brew presided over by Louis Aragon, who announced “The marvelous is the eruption of contradiction within the real” – and you get a sense of the itemized, fractious temperament that distinguishes Hundley’s debut collection, The Revolver in the Hive (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), published in the Poets Out Loud series, edited by Elisabeth Frost.

Hundley, who currently lives in Austin, Texas, doesn’t seem to be connected with any of the groups of poets currently jostling for attention. He is a loner who has absorbed and reconfigured aspects of Gertrude Stein and H. P. Lovecraft, concrete music and gothic science fiction. This is the opening of the prose poem “The Ecclesiastic Office of the Bible.”

Ever since I took the bicycle to the temple, wheeled it into the
temple, ushered the bicycle down the aisle, past the pews fre-
quented by rodent and fugitive, placed the bicycle at the altar,
altered it with the bicycle, it has been the temple of the bicycle.

The quietly insistent music of this sentence lifts it out of the purely narrative movement we associate with prose poems – the shifts within the repetition seems more Philip Glass than Stein – as Hundley builds upon it, extends it, opens it up. It suggests that his poems are led as much by sound as by meaning, that he discovers where he is going by getting there.

Was it W. H. Auden who said that he wanted to find one good line in a poem by a young poet– a string of words that would tell him that something interesting and perhaps special was there? Hundley has written lots of terrific lines, not to mention poems. More importantly, the lines don’t all work the same way, and don’t fall within the same emotional register. He isn’t predictable. He can go from the strange to the eccentric for a reason that refuses to spell itself out.

Gouda is a cheese drunk on tantric reverie
Gouda is the name of a bird I once owned

Did I say that Hundley assembles wonderful lists? Or that his writings are comparable to a constellation of distant stars: he holds their divergent presences together through the logic of the poem until a wondrous illumination emerges. That’s one reason why you should read this book.

The Revolver in the Hive (2013) is part of the Poets Out Loud series published by Fordham University Press and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

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