Books


02 Dec 2013

Saint X

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Kirk Nesset’s Saint X chronicles the muted joy and despair of a millennial age, charting love’s ills and the grind of mortality. His figures are bizarre but familiar: people born under punches, shaken awake by rattles and flares, latter-day pilgrims who stare at the statue that stares at America; people for whom disobedience is still a first duty, and death but a question of style. Wearing bandages rather than smiles, they’re misshapen champions downed by self-bludgeons, perversely on foot while the saddled horse follows—and yet in each case, in each poem, they are honored if not saved by nuanced reflection, measured perception, and the pleasures of song.

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Saint X

• Pub. Date: October 2012
• Publisher: Stephen F. Austin University Press
• ISBN: 1936205769
• Price: $15.95

Latest Book Reviews

Kirk Nesset’s Saint X is exquisite, exuberant, exhilarating, exemplary, exceptional, exceedingly excellent. Nesset’s poems merge the sacred and profane in a seamless vision. Each poems’ lush language, its specificity and heart, make Saint X a holy (and holy moly!) read. — Denise Duhamel

In the poems of Kirk Nesset, in full-throated and rollicking iambs, we find love and death dancing to the tune of language, and doing so at the edge of the abyss. Never mind the absurdity of our private tarantellas, wonky polkas, and blundering bunny hops—these poems are here to help. These poems are just in time. — Alan Michael Parker

At war with the middle, nakedly sane, these poems make you look again, think twice, think again, and feel glad that such an unsettling imagination is at work in poetry. — Li-Young Lee

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Saint X . . . explores regret, the expressive beauty of words and things, and the circularity of existential seeking . . . Nesset implies that the artist is sometimes a saint, as he or she embodies the best, most generous and miraculous expressions of a humbled, tormented, loving humanity. — Julie Ann Brandt, PLEIADES (34:1)

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Saint X . . . serves as a “how to” book, offering ways to live when hope feels an impossibility, warning us of the pitfalls of fear and doubt, reminding us that we are solo natives who travel through this life alone and who will all ultimately face the same fate . . . And [the poems'] voices don’t let us go. They don’t offer much time to think or reflect. Instead, they hurl us a hundred miles an hour into the unrelenting future of our lives, allowing us to feel the unsteadiness, the uneasiness, of all this world presents to us. — David Crews, THE ADIRONDACK REVIEW

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Nesset has found the language of the lost. — Christina Rau, FJORDS

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His short fictions are infiltrated by poetic visions and in Saint X his poems are flash glimpses (with elegant language and elevated diction) into the narratives of worlds and characters that hold the rest of their back-stories just beyond the edge of the page, leaving your imagination to continue inventing the myths, after the book is closed. — Shawnte Orion, BATTERED HIVE

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Saint X arrives in the night to fill the void — the liminal space between the sheets, between awake and asleep, dreams and nightmares, lightning and thunder. Nesset unravels lumpier corners of the universe and undresses them slowly, leaving the reader with a series of poems that are as cryptic as they are captivating. “We did and we did, blindly alive/in our dreaming, at war with the middle,” Nesset writes in the titular poem. Reading the words, you feel at war yourself — imbued by ripened, blind pineapples, imbibing each image as the scenes melt in your thoughts. At war with? Put your finger on it, I dare you. Saint X lurks behind each page, and, certain you will catch the genderless, faceless perpetrator, you finger over them as fast as your eyes will let you. But Saint X is always one step ahead; take your time. In strawberry light, in naked sanity, Saint X will appear not at once, but all together. From the song of Nesset’s poetry, you will feel a heavy presence long after the book returns — spine-out — to a shelf. Faint whispers at first, a low rumble growing: then it’s gone. — Eric Ellis, RINGSIDE REVIEWS

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Full of peculiar, recognizable figures . . . colorful and precise. – POETS QUARTERLY

Excerpt from Saint-X

TIME ON THE DOWN OF PLENTY

On Slaughter Beach I lay me down
on the sand between surf and calliope, there
where oceania meets glitz: plastic
mosques and minarets and transvestals, sub-
verts, countersexuals—Spanky Sparklenuts,
Afterbirth Boy and Crab Apple, Candace
the Grimace and She-Who-Eats-Only-Fish.
Nighttime it was, brine-sour, my head sunk
in shadow. Above, boardwalkers walked—catcalls
and titters. Such was my time on the down
of plenty; such is my way when inwardness
knells. How had I let myself poison
my passion? How had I failed to feel,
knees in the dust? What’s done’s done, said
my head—just do what you do. Mingle
with toothless epicures; enough moral
engorgement. The camel and gnat strain on
as they must. The sea, neon-tinged, hisses.
And the misshapen champion—feckless, un-
daunted, plucked—cavorts in his fiberglass grotto,
flexing his liver, his terrible guts.

 

SOME OF THE MOST STRIKING WOMEN
I HAVE KNOWN HAVE BEEN MEN

At Brass Rail Cocktails at Fulton and 8th—
salmon and purple art-deco, across from the block-long
fake-granite bank—they stare out through smoke,
one muscular leg crossed on the other, black hair
tumbling behind; the eyes haunt and enchant. At
the professional conference they quarrel,
so smart it hurts, decrying the jellyfish theory,
the orphic pronouncements, evangelical protestantism, toad-
stools, the cannon and canon, skunks, canine and feline,
and later, Chester the six-foot mechanical chicken, swiped
by kids off a roof; they hold difference aloft like a banner,
they pause to salute it. A dozen or so lifetimes ago, who
was so watchful as this? The hills humped their backs
in the rain, sprouting venomous flowers—the ocean snoring
and raving, at war with the glacier, the lean ghosts adrift,
capsized, capsized and raised, crashing their way up the beach.
Daughters and sons of oblivion, wielding your scepters
in Burbank and Kirkland, will you still hunger, prey to the gnat
and mosquito, will you pawn your very lute for ten shillings?
Will you still say, dying of thirst in salt water, here’s where
you finish, and here I begin?

Alphabet of the World is a selected anthology of poetry and prose in translation by Eugenio Montejo, one of Venezuela’s most distinguished poets and a crucial voice in Latin American literature. The book offers a comprehensive, wide-ranging selection—poetry, essays and heteronymic works — as well as a critical introduction and notes and bibliography; it offers the kind of scope needed in introducing a major Latin American author to a wider, international audience. Born in 1938, Montejo is author of twelve books of poetry, including Elegos, Muerte y Memoria, Algunas Palabras, Terredad and Alfabeto del Mundo. He published two books of essays as well, and several volumes of heteronymic work, including Gitarra del Horizonte and El Cuaderno de Blas Coll. Montejo received the prestigious Octavio Paz prize in 2005, and was awarded Venezuela’s National Prize for Literature in 1998. He also served as Venezuela’s cultural diplomat to Portugal at various times. He died in June of 2008.

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  • Pub. Date: Fall 2010
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • ISBN: 0806141484
  • Price $19.95

Latest Book Reviews

Alphabet of the World serves as a valuable contribution to our awareness and understanding of the literature of Latin America. — New Pages.com. Read More

I had never heard of Eugenio Montejo, but trusted Nesset’s taste and knowledge with words. He didn’t lead me astray. I must have read this book twelve times. Not only are the poems beautifully written, they are also instructional. The person I would most like to be is shown in the de-centered “I” of Montejo’s poems. — The Bees Knees Blog Read More

Excerpt from Alphabet of the World

IN THE TIME THAT REMAINS

In the time that remains

let’s teach stones to speak.

A little patience will do, a little snow,

a less guarded sobbing.

The voices of the Atlantic are blue,

with tipsy sea snails whispering;

why hasn’t anyone told the stones?

They will remain for us,

they will bathe in the flood,

profound, porous, untainted.

A little patience will do, a little snow,

a simple sign, more humane.

They’ll be able to tell all alone

the earth’s final tale,

recall us at the ocean’s edge

when waves drag other slow logs along.

 

 

WRITTEN IN PASSING

 

The poet doesn’t sing, he crosses

the street.  Autos and shadows

fly by at panic speed.

Ancient statues twitch.

Taxis jammed with mummies

make their way to the pyramids.

An agile moon,

home to Nefertiti,

is pursued by the minotaur.

 

The poet travels one line to another

between traffic light vowels.

He doesn’t sing, it would be useless,

he dodges dimness and madness

without uttering a word.

In this long night

his voice is lightning

that is creating heat elsewhere.

01 Sep 2009

Mr. Agreeable

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Mr. Agreeable is a collection of flash and sudden fictions, featuring keyhole glimpses of lives at the edge, of characters haunted by shadowy pasts, caught at pivotal moments and braced for what lies ahead. Burdened and bent in their various ways, Nesset's figures are led forward by others by strangers, assailants, ambiguous friends and and are finally nudged toward awareness or tentative insight, if not moved to action. Gathered together, the stories comprise a twisted collage, sometimes hilarious, sometimes unsettling, often hilariously unsettling. Stories from Mr. Agreeable have been anthologized widely, appearing in The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, in Norton's Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction, and elsewhere.

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  • Pub. Date: September 2009
  • Publisher: Mammoth Books
  • ISBN: 1595390219
  • Price: $11.95

Latest Book Reviews

Nesset is attuned to the fine-edged songs of the mundane, alert to the explosions ready to burst even in the dull routes where our lives lead. All this without forcing the drama or cheating the literal crawl of time. I wish I could manage this. Hurrah! — Barry Hannah

Kirk Nesset has, in his collection of short short stories Mr. Agreeable, given us a beautiful bouquet of crystal shards, each one of which, when held to the light, refracts and amplifies and makes new the entire notion of light. But be careful: like crystal shards and like any good stories these haunting pieces cut to the bone. — Bret Lott

In these stories, we remember our lives are indeed a sequence of moments, with their distinct and defining characteristics; they’re like polaroids from a personal apocalypse. There is a navigational alchemy in this work, a mastery of subject and craft. — Kate Braverman

Throughout this fine collection, Nesset shows that pleasure can be found even in the mulch of the earth and that we are all deserving of joy. — Nicelle Davis, PANK   Read more

One of Mr. Nesset’s strengths is his eye for humor in awkward, uncomfortable situations. — Adolfo Mejia, Connotation Press  Read more.

Nesset’s pieces seem to go down like candy, with their precise and engaging rhythms. But then—surprise—they stick in the throat. — Bill O’Driscoll, Pittsburgh City Paper.  Read more

Any time spent with either Paradise Road or Mr. Agreeable will be quality time. — Ed Post, Erie Times  Read more

Podcast Review of Mr. Agreeable — Majorie Maddox on WPSU’s BookMark:  Listen.

Excerpt from Mr. Agreeable

                                           THE HIGHWAY

They’ve come to decide, this pointy-head man and his wife in the muumuu. My employee Malcolm hands them another, a prettier pup, just to confuse them some more, then goes back to filling the water and kibble bins and scooping up bon-bons. The wife lifts the dog to her cheek, cooing, as Malcolm exits the kennel, failing as always to stoop quite enough and whunk, smacks his head on the doorframe. I cross my arms at my breasts, waiting. Above, another copter chops by. The fire last night at Pac-Bell knocked out the phones, phones in eight or so cities, which is to say 911 is kaput and they’re all on patrol, hoping to outguess disaster.

We don’t need a real show dog, says the man. Meaning he’d rather not pay what I’m asking.

It’s all I sell here, I tell him.

I get to drown the runts, Malcolm says, grinning, coming back with more sawdust.

They laugh, like he’s got to be kidding.

Lucinda, I say to myself, these people have money, they’ve known no hardship, this grown-up little girl with the gray eyes and pink lips and her pinheaded manikin husband. Do not even budge, I say to myself.  Lose firmness here and firmness goes altogether.

The girl hands the pup to her husband. A fire truck slides past the back fence on the highway, cruising for flames and high action.  I stand and stare while the people confer. Out by the fence my pond has dried up, a round of cracked concrete, dead cattails, and dust. My lawn has gone crunchy, stale and yellowy-brown.

Before they can pull out a checkbook I start singing Old Smoky. They need to know that the world’s only barkless dog is no dormouse, they need to hear it cry Owwww, part yawn and part moan, to see the beige face bunched at the forehead, as in grief. I sing. The pups start to howl. Soon the howling is drowning me out. Skinny pimply Malcolm, conducting, wags his hands like batons over the nest of Basenjis, all mouths now and corkscrew tails.

Nobody brings pups back to me saying I thought these things didn’t bark. They understand that Owwww makes up for plenty.

Pointy-head writes me the check. Malcolm slumps to the exit—whunk—and goes indoors to pull the dog’s papers. Another helicopter swoops over. The girl cradles her new pup in her muumuu.

Malcolm’s a must with my son gone and all, I tell them. I put the check in my pocket. First I fold it in half.

Where’s your son? says the girl.

Dead, Malcolm reports from the sliding glass door.  He’s pissed that I started without him.

Did himself in with a rifle.  Like his daddy, I say.

Christ, the man says.

Right here in the garage, says Malcolm, aiming his chin up the walkway where the two tons of dog food are stored, and boxes of wormers and sawdust, and the rusty bicycle, and the bumper and fender from the Duster I don’t have any more, and my yearbooks, and rib- bons from shows, and magazine stacks, thirty years of National Geographic, shingle-stiff, half-eaten with mold.  Unlike Malcolm, I say, my boy was tidy.

He wore a pillowcase, she means, Malcolm says.  Less mess.

Oh my God, the girl says, seeing we’re serious. Oh my God nothing, Malcolm continues.  One big pool’s better than—

You weren’t here, I tell him, cutting it short—feeling bad for the girl.  You weren’t even born, I tell Malcolm.  You weren’t even larval.

So.

So pick up these turds.

The people seem edgy to go.  Well, thank you, the wife says. We move through the dim living room. Got any kids? I ask on the way. They tell me no.  The man steps onto the porch. The girl follows behind, clutching the pup to her neck. Choppers flap overhead. Sirens wail in the distance.

Back at the kennel, the noise deafens. Rescue vans stream by in the twilight, lights flashing like Christmas. The dogs hold their snouts in air, howling and howling, but the sound is blotted out by the sirens.  I crackle across the grass to the fence and look over.

They wander, remember, I should have said to the girl. Keep them inside. Once they find their way to the highway, that’s it.

01 Sep 2007

Paradise Road

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The stories in Kirk Nesset's Paradise Road vividly examine the various pitfalls, both physical and emotional, we encounter and suffer trying to find lasting meaning in love. Stark and unsentimental, they feature the chiaroscuro of particular worlds and particular lives, infused with the yearning and muted desperation that comes after passion has bent us, burned us, and cast us aside. "Nothing comes and goes without a trace," muses the narrator of "The Prince of Perch Fishing," the collection's opening tale. "In this world there are consequences for everything." Such stories speak to the fleeting yet monumental moments of our lives, which catch us off guard, unveiling and unsettling us, each leaving its indelible mark. The stories also offer paths, paved or unpaved, leading out of the ashes, out of the wilds of upheaval and betrayal and pain. Story by story, Paradise Road guides us deeply into ourselves — into new kinds of awareness, if not transformation..

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Paradise Road book cover
  • Pub. Date: September 2007
  • Publisher:  Pittsburgh University Press
  • ISBN: 0822943158
  • Price: $24.95

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Reviews

Really good writers seem to have their own terrain, their own timing, their own off-key lullabies, and Kirk Nesset is certainly a good short story writer. These stories are melodious when they need to be, jangle when we need to hear what’s discordant. They’re about lives lived without a self-congratulatory champagne flute in sight, played against a background of shifting, uneasy, endlessly surprising ordinary life. — Ann Beattie

I’m so grateful that Kirk Nesset’s wonderful stories have been collected between covers. We need books like Paradise Road. Now more than ever. Nesset sees the world — our infinately screwed-up world — from such a beautifully peculiar angle. He allows us to see so much that we miss. These stories brim with soul and wounded heart. —Peter Orner

Paradise Road delivers us, in a barbed and wiry prose, into the certainties of a future riding in hard and indifferent, a world brittle and chipped at the edges, no home at all for the soft-hearted or soft-minded. Kirk Nesset works the mean and woeful precincts of the heart, his people gone whichaway with want, every sunrise revealing yet another chance to screw up, every midnight a welcome relief from misrule and mistake. Here’s a book like gunfire down the block — spooky and unexpected and unforgettable — a book that grabs you by the scruff and shakes you silly with its wisdom and its odd and dangerous beauty. — Lee K. Abbott

The figures and voices that appear in Paradise Road are like ghosts from an ancient land that move toward their destinies with hope and defiance. Mr. Nesset conducts their journeys with a sure hand while making fiction of striking originality and beauty. Paradise Road may go through geography unfamiliar to some of us, but the route, once taken, is unforgettable. — Hilary Masters

Paradise Road is a sweet collection. Nesset’s brisk style is sometimes married to quirky events, but it’s consistently true to his characters — ordinary men and women whose ambitions and loves usually fail them. The stories are set mostly in California and they’re rich in the detail of inner and outer landscapes, and of the wisdom that comes — or doesn’t come — from losing. — Robley Wilson

Nesset can bewitch you with one word. But he can also make 100 sing like a chorus. — Pittsburgh City Paper Read More

Nesset’s best stories take tradition elements — abandonment, betrayal, a desperate fool attempting a scam and getting caught — and pump life back into them by introducing the decorously unexpected. — Barn Owl Review Read More

Kirk Nesset displays his mastery of the short story form in twelve rich and well-developed stories. — Rain Taxi Review Read More

Like other natural phenomena we’ll never really understand, the hydra-headed thing we call love lends itself to endless deconstruction. Allegheny College English professor Kirk Nesset takes a whack at this elusive ghost in his new short story collection. — History Wire Read More

Paradise Road recently won the annual Drue Heinz Literature Prize, an honor it very much deserves. This is a stunning collection. — Erie Times

What keeps us reading, what inspires us, really, to polish off this slim book in one sitting, is Nesset’s stylized, polished control of so many contradictory impulses. — The Saint Ann’s Review

01 Jan 1995

Stories of Raymond Carver: A Critical Study

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Raymond Carver, known in some circles as the “godfather of minimalism,” has been credited by many as the rejuvenator of the once-dying American short story. Drawing on representative tales from each of Carver’s major volumes of fiction, Nesset’s critical exploration leads us deep into the heart of Carver country, an eerie post-industrial world of low-rent survivors. In the earliest fiction, the politics of sex are tied to politics of fortune and chance; marriage as an institution is capricious and unsettling. In later stories, the gesture of telling stories provides an escape for certain of these characters, metaphorically and otherwise; and in Carver’s last stories, subtle strategies of language offer a similar, if more tentative release. From beginning to end, Carver’s distinctive, highly imitative style is intrinsic to his subject and is crucial in presenting what Carver called the “dark side of Reagan’s America.” In this comprehensive study of Carver, Nesset discusses the relationship of minimalism and postmodern trends and the rise of new realism. By locating Carver in the gallery of American letters, Nesset shows him to be at once more simple and more complex than we might have believed, skillfully laying the groundwork for Carver studies to come.

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raymond
  • Pub. Date: January 1995
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press
  •  ISBN: 0821411004
  • Price $14.95

 

Reviews

This short volume intelligently synthesizes and supplements much of the earlier criticism about this significant writer, who died at the peak of his powers in 1988 — B.H. Leeds — Choice

This quirky, sometimes strikingly poetic discussion provides an insightful accounting of Carver’s oeuvre. — Bryan D. Dietrich — American Literature

Susan Jane Gilman on A Writer’s Life, Carver’s biography, by Carol Sklenicka — an NPR audio review. — Read and Listen.