Geoffrey Nutter
Wave Books ($14)

by Nate Pritts

Poetry that replicates the harried everyday consciousness of our deflated and depleted modern selves has been burning like an anthem in the heart of literature for decades. Recently this fire has taken on the added coloration of not just “plain speech” but what one might more rightly call “lazy talk,” unpunctuated babble where the occasional awkward juxtaposition fools the reader (and even the writer!) into thinking the shapeless and lackadaisical linguistic trajectory has reached a level of insight or revelation.

Thank goodness for Geoffrey Nutter, whose poetry seems to be powered equally by sunlight, virtue, wonder, and humility. Christopher Sunset immediately signals to the reader that its core values reside in the art and practice of being human. Time and again, Nutter’s finely crafted lines and sentences unerringly execute a clean delineation of subject or object. With deft breaks and descriptions, and with a steady commitment to the possibilities of the human psyche (rather than its limitations), Nutter is able to create an enlivening sense of hope as he embodies poetic principles that begin in quiet understanding and lead to praise:

It’s evening. I’m walking down
to the river to watch the sun set.
The clouds are like millions of bright blue leaves
scattered across the sky.

As this poem, “Thanksgiving,” continues, Nutter’s speaker expertly weaves together a seamless display of the objects surrounding him. Without pyrotechnics, Nutter allows the reader to embrace each thing (“shards of bottles” and a “broken-down boathouse,” among many others) on its own terms, for what it is. His sure-handed sentence construction manages this in what feels to be one breathless gasp, one contemplative whisper, so that when the declarative “It’s all coming together now” comes late in the poem, it comes with the shock of clarity.

In “The Big Thought,” Nutter’s speaker proclaims “Walking along the shore / and looking at the sea / the waves and the sky / made me want to think / some big thoughts.” Despite the straightforward nature of this poetic sentence, it’s dangerous to think of Nutter’s writing as merely simple. Here, his purpose is to put this lonely ambitious man in his place, leaving him without a created insight, no big thought thunk through on his own, though he is able to recognize one “on the fresh, loud sounds of the sea.” This kind of devotion to the real and natural world is enacted again and again in this collection as it quietly urges us into a position of responsive receptivity.

Through this prayerful attentiveness can come real enlightenment. Nutter’s capability for careful and pure vision is matched by the elegant and exquisite ways in which he can demonstrate the intricacies of thought on the page:

All night it was sleeting
on the slate-gray cylinders,
clear plastic sacking was torn from branches,
but we keep the peace, strong as Sherpas.
We keep the faith, sure as incendiary.
We become children, that we might become
children of lions.

These lines, from “Prometheans,” start in objective observation, move into subjective perception, and come to rest in dramatic resolution, bold proclamation.

In “Grasshoppers,” Nutter’s speaker effuses “I had this vague ambition— / that I would, somehow, be / just human. Human / as raindrops.” With an insightful and vivid imaginative range, Geoffrey Nutter has handed us a book that records the motions of being human, enacting it in language that leads to a passionate feeling of overflow.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2010/2011 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2010/2011