Saturday, January 29, 2011

FA Nettelbeck: 2 poems, fractured idiom, pathologies of our culture

I posted twice last week about FA Nettelbeck, who left us this month. Now, two of his poems.
As I've said, he was the anti-eager-to-be-accessed-and-lauded poet, the anti-CK Williams, the anti-Marie Howe, the anti-Richard Howard. He was not of the Academy; and while every poet seeks an audience for their work--the psychic id pushing us to make art pushes poet and poem out or to at least leave sheaves behind in a desk in Amherst, Nettelbeck's pushes were less obvious than some others. That counts.

Stephen Kessler wrote, "Nettelbeck since 1970 established himself more than anyone else I’ve known as a truly outside-the-law literatus, a man who, if not for poetry, very likely would have ended up in prison.  His genius as a writer was to echo or reflect back through a fractured idiom some of the deepest pathologies of our culture, and through anger and outrage and an irrepressible need to offer some cry of defiance, to create a formally meticulous, visually musical, highly personal yet anti-lyrical poetry."

Thanks to poet Cralan Kelder for posting these two poems by FA Nettelbeck so I could steal and share them here.

American Postcard

when the ghost train whines across
hollow eyes when cicadas speak
Texarkana sentences when the hands
of a waitress unbutton his grease stained
jeans in the back of no memory when
the radio plays a hobo song inside a locker
at the Greyhound station at noon when
the children find a brown body in the alley
next door to the Hotel Grim when the pink
meat of the watermelon splits obscenely
open when the one mosquito lights on a
cheerleader’s smooth bare ass when you’ll
turn to alcohol where the weathered
metal sign says Cool Inside

Keep Drinking

this cheap Australian chardonnay on

ice is better than running out of gas in

Long Beach or hearing those anti-

shoplifting buzzers going off right

before you gotta start running

again it’s like that no pussy in

three years and now you’re back

at the clinic sitting with this chick

who’s as dull as her Goodwill panties

makes you want to light yourself on

fire and jump on Jesus if you ever

got the chance to see him I mean a

final wish situation like calling talk

radio on a flophouse hallway phone

and ultimately not having nothing to say

no idea where you’re going with it next

as you stare dumbfounded at the wall

where someone has scribbled

This isn’t so bad
F.A. Nettelbeck, 1950 to 2011


  1. Hey there, I published his last book. Here's a little tribute if you're interested:

  2. Kevin Lo,
    Thanks. Good tribute. I wish I'd met him.
    I like this (I like it all): "His struggle was beautiful, and though I don’t want to romanticise the marginality from which he lived, I can’t help but give respect to it."
    Warm regards,