Will Nixon’s second book of poetry, Love in the City of Grudges, returns to the fertile, dysfunctional family territory of his first collection My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse, also published by FootHills Publishing in Kanona, New York. Coming on the heels of that power-packed gathering of poems, which appeared in 2008, we are graced with a thunderous two-punch of books by the Woodstock, New York area poet and journalist which rip away the veneer of familial relationships and mines them in the new volume for an even more darkly humorous and monstrous ride into the troubling soul of American life and love.
Most of the poems in Love in the City of Grudges are located in the ferment of the Nixon era of Vietnam and Watergate, and the thicket of the 1980s of the Punk/New Wave alternative rock music scene and the gentrification of the urban foothills of Hoboken, New Jersey, where the author (no relation to former President Richard Nixon) resided while working at an assortment of jobs as he made his way one half step at a time from college into the workaday world of the publishing industry across the Hudson River in Manhattan. On a personal level this book is a coming of age story for the author, and, more generally, for the boomer generation bred in America in the wake of the Second World War. It delves frequently into the radically changing sexual mores of the period, and is laced with many erotic turns and encounters.
Above all, however, the poems in this new book return with gale force to the tales of a family close to his own heart—an alcoholic mother and her penchant for vermouth, a distant and devoutly conservative father who hero-worshiped Tricky Dick, and a slacker brother who lives at home with less ambition than a flea.
Love in the City of Grudges opens fittingly with a dedication to Nixon’s double-muse, Thanatos and Eros. The book is divided into three sections, Dog City, Meryl Streep Has Brought All Her Pigeons: Poems of Hoboken in the 1980s, and the aforementioned series inspired by the classic horror film Night of the Living Dead. The first section takes off with a vengeance with “The Night I Saw the Clash” and “Love, Falling In,” and a few quotations from this initial group of poems will hopefully inspire you to read on beyond this brief review. In the former poem Nixon miraculously manages to score two tickets to see the great English punk band of the 1980s, The Clash, on a Manhattan night he was expecting to see the new Wim Wenders film with his girlfriend and smartly vows “Fuck Wim Wenders! I had to rescue/ my girlfriend from the cinema now!” In the latter poem, Nixon mixes the tale of a suicide jump that failed, because of a forceful wind that pushed the jumper into a passing apartment, with the sexual and sensual intrigue of a burgeoning love relationship, in which at the punchbowl “Your purple blouse strained buttons over a tan bra./ The gap in your front teeth meant something sensual in Chaucer that I tried to recall from sophomore English.” This poem includes one of the numerous literary “asides” that appear in this book—a virtual encyclopedia of smart and sometimes hilarious references that have gained the author’s broad-minded fancy. Some of the funniest and most startling sexual lines of verse in the book appear in the poem “Oscar Night” where the poet’s wife suggests that the hostess of a party “Sprinkle cayenne pepper on (Tom Cruise’s) towels.” The poem “On Becoming a Novelist” includes lines that are simultaneously literary, erotic and funny: “’Who has the patience for fiction?’ she teased,/ then slipped a handful of pebbles down my khakis, and wondered aloud what it would take to corrupt me.” In “Moving Into My Cabin,” Nixon is Gary Snyder-like in listing the litany of the day to day doings following his grand exit from the city to the country life he has embraced steadily for the past 14 years. This is followed shortly after by “September 13th 2001,” a poem written in the Catskills two days after 9/11, which is filled with wonderful observations about the natural world Nixon has come to know and write about so intimately in the intervening period. On that fateful day less than some three hours drive by car from the city and its fallen twin towers, Nixon is moved to step out of his cabin and think back to the old home grounds that played such a major role in his coming of age and lament: “I stripped naked and stepping into the downpour,/ cold and pelting, to join the crying world.”