Nathan McClain is probably the poet on the list with whose current work I'm most familiar. He is a great supporter of other poets' work, including mine, and our friendship emerged from our ongoing conversations about poetry.
The quality I find most admirable in Nathan's poems is how he manages to create abiding, sustained ache. His speaker never grandstands, and never indulges in self-pity – on the contrary, his discursive interrogatives often implicate him in his own sadness. Nathan accomplishes this using understated language, a quiet voice that knows sorrow well, and accepts it. Few poets have the courage to enter that place and stay there – I think of Larry Levis as one, and Carl Phillips, often – but it's fundamental to good writing: to look and speak clearly, even when it comes to pain. Please enjoy.
Who would’ve known you’d grow so afraid of stillness,
enclosed spaces, that you’d no longer remember a time you weren’t
subtracting seconds from your life, as if each breath were held?
If you had the strength to pluck your lucky quarter
from behind your wife’s ear, would you have? Would she still laugh?
A teakettle boils on the stove, its steam enough
to unlock your lungs. Your wife reads from Robinson Crusoe,
whom you cannot help but dream of, enveloped
by endless miles of ocean. Outside, paper skeletons are strung
up on every house in your neighborhood. You hear a boy
skipping up and down the block, begging his mother,
for Halloween, Mom, can I please be a ghost, please?
Nathan McClain holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Collagist, Weave, Quarterly West, The Journal, Nimrod, Toad and Best New Poets 2010. A recipient of scholarships from Vermont Studio Center and The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, he currently lives and works in New York.