Last Friday, American author, poet and playwright Nick Flynn, visited the College for a captivating reading of several of his poems. He is the author of three collections of poetry, Some Ether, Blind Huber and The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands, with Some Ether winning the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. He is also known for his memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which has recently made into a Hollywood film titled Being Flynn starring Robert De Niro. His most recent memoir, The Reenactments, published last year, chronicles his experience of having his own life story projected on screen. The intimate poetry reading at The Log featured fourteen anthologized poems of varying length and diverse subject matter, ranging from the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 to the coincidental deaths of Lou Reed and the poet’s own father.
Flynn opened the reading with Hive, a poem he later described as “obscure.” He noted lightheartedly that he prefers to start such readings with some of his more cryptic work since he thinks that at the beginning of a reading “not everyone is here yet.” What followed was a series of emotionally stirring poems reflecting both personal battles in the poet’s life and more politically infused topics.
His most moving presentation was AK-47, a collaborative piece that employs a “Japanese form for presenting an idea with images” known as Pecha Kucha. Flynn explained that one “chooses images and then creates a narrative with short bursts that describe or complicate each image.” It is customarily a presentational tool for businessmen, but here Flynn transfers its function from an entrepreneurial one to a literary one. Accompanying the reading of his poem, therefore, was a succession of images projected onto a screen behind Flynn, featuring soldiers holding AK-47s in the field. Collectively, these images are part a cinematic artwork by an Eastern European artist. The poem addresses the turbulent consequences of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s invention by appealing to readers’ emotional senses. It is segmented into twenty-three sections, each of which was signaled by a reading of the section’s number. It includes a host of cultural references, such as a line from Jack Gilbert, “Love lays hold of everything,” as his opening line, and a borrowed line from Kendrick Lamar’s His Pain, “I don’t know why God keeps blessing me.” Flynn also references the storyline of the film Memento with lines describing the main character’s battle with amnesia in determining the events that led to death of his wife. This particular recitation was highly effective. It was absorbing, original and emotionally stirring.
Flynn’s delivery accentuated the reading’s charm. His rhythm engaged the listener with the clearly articulated line breaks and stanzas, carefully emphasized with Flynn’s every breath. It is evident that structure is a fundamental component of Flynn’s poetry. Indeed, when asked about the structure of his poetry, he explained his unique method, in which he employs a traditional meter for part of a poem before turning to free verse. He remarked that he found such an approach to writing poetry “interesting” since he is able to retain past poetic tradition whilst adding his own personal twist. He also added that with the birth of his daughter, he has found himself reading numerous nursery rhymes and has been influenced by their forms in his metric structures.
Having known none of Nick Flynn’s work prior to attending his reading, I was not sure what to expect. I was quickly impressed, however, by his charismatic delivery and the intimate quality of his work. I highly recommend that others explore his poetry.