by Jay Baron Nicorvo
Jay Baron Nicorvo's debut collection revolves around a central character, called Deadbeat—descendant of John Berryman's Mr. Bones, Marvin Bell's Dead Man and Ted Hughes's Crow, to name an irrepressible few. Nicorvo's compassionate yet relentless portrait—of Deadbeat, an absent father and husband, and the family that goes on without him—weaves together a domestic narrative in which we witness Deadbeat muddle through courtship, marriage, estrangement, divorce, and, of course, fatherhood.
The book opens at a child support hearing—“Take a good look at your future,” the mother tells the young boy—and the poems that follow careen back and forth in time chronicling a downtrodden life, from the courtroom to the budding romance between Deadbeat and his bride to Deadbeat's grown son and his own child. “What's all this about love / when need strikes first fires?” we are asked, while layer upon complex layer is added to what we think we know about Deadbeat. Calling upon other well-known figures as in-absentia fathers—far-flung Odysseus, President Obama's father, and even God in the poem “Deadbeat on High”—Nicorvo allows us to glimpse, with a surprising tenderness, the humanness of this man who "stripped the screw holding heaven together" and "mistook the window / for the world." An effigy for America and our culture of recession, Deadbeat is brought to life with honesty, sympathy and love in all of its complications.
“Deadbeat is disarming in its ability to engage with both the seemingly mundane (untied shoelace? Go Velcro) and the eternal (the screw holding heaven together), often in the same poem (“Deadbeat on High”), often in the same breath, swinging easily between dark comedy and glancing heartbreak. It seems possible that Jay Baron Nicorvo has ingested all the darkness of this life and now breathes fire.”
“Jay Baron Nicorvo's marvelous debut is something of a contemporary epic shot through with paradoxical levity and gravity. Our hero is a sad trickster, a persona for whom the slippery echo of ‘dad’ can be heard each time the name ‘Deadbeat’ is sung, spat or chuckled. These poems explore what it is to be loving and loveless and ultimately give us an irreducible view of our humanity. Deadbeat is a book of joy, melancholy and abiding tenderness.”
“Make room for Deadbeat on the short shelf of essential mock-epic Poetry Heroes. In this winning first book, Jay Baron Nicorvo's coy and coruscating narrator stands shoulder to shoulder with Ed Dorn's Gunslinger and Marvin Bell's Dead Man, to say nothing of Mr. Bones and John Berryman. With generous helpings of Hopkins, Cummings and Creeley too, these poems provide a literary feast with intelligence and panache to spare.”
Child Support Hearing
Deadbeat enters the courtroom without a toupée,
shirt unbuttoned to his navel, a gold V dangling
the Patron Saint of Audited Tax Evaders.
Son of Deadbeat wants to know why
his brothers aren't here. His mother, a bankrupt,
answers, What brothers. When they're all called
to rise, she touches his ear and tells him, Take
a good look at your future, and what he sees, years
later, isn't presidential: the veteran asleep on the subway,
oak that has always been there, an unstarred urban night
like a leather hood drawn over his face by an older man,
the last Hadrian, who swears, You're going to love this.
about the author
Jay Baron Nicorvo's poetry, fiction, nonfiction and criticism have appeared in The Literary Review, Guernica, The Iowa Review and The Believer. He's served on editorial staffs at Ploughshares and at PEN America, the literary magazine of the PEN American Center, and worked for the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses [clmp]. He teaches at Western Michigan University, where he's faculty advisor to Third Coast, and he lives on an old farm outside Battle Creek with his wife, Thisbe Nissen, their rambunctious son and a dozen vulnerable chickens.
photo: Thisbe Nissen