Nervous Device

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Product Details
$13.95  $12.97
City Lights Books
Publish Date
5.4 X 6.9 X 0.3 inches | 0.25 pounds

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About the Author

Catherine Wagner was born in Burma to American military parents, afterwards living in the Philippines, Indonesia, Yemen and India before moving to the US. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, studying with Jorie Graham, Donald Revell and Denis Johnson, and a PhD from the University of Utah. She is an Associate Professor of English at Miami University.


"Wagner's fourth collection contains poems of memory and dark artifice. She writes with an obscure, magnetic lens. Wagner's longer poems are willfully disorienting: 'A Well Is a Mine: A Good Belongs to Me' consists almost entirely of lines encased in quotation marks that confront slavery and invent equations: 'Freedom × Need = Reality.' Wagner contrasts these complicated poems with short, clean, pieces that offer a kind of breathing space for the reader. Not to be mistaken for trivial, the linguistic tightness of these poems are highlights of Wagner's collection. 'Ta' describes a drowning television: 'o'er and o'er / let it stink way down / and coral grew there. / Covered it oar. / Let miserere deep. / Be mine for'air.' The poems delve into and self-consciously warp body, sex, and language. 'Unclang' explores writing poetry: 'it takes experience to write a real poem that is well-lit, ' Wagner argues. Later in the same poem we are blindsided by the haunting statement that 'writing a poem is like reaching two prosthetic limbs out as far as you can on either side to grab something in front of you. You can't grab it but maybe you'll take flight.'"--Publisher's Weekly

"Taking with one hand what they give with the other, Wagner's poems are full of vehemence and disdain and tenderness and somewhere, in some inexpugnable part of the body of language through which so many discomforting feelings pass, a thorny kind of joy. This is my idea of great poetry: in which 'The actual is / flickering a binary / between word and not-word.'"--Barry Schwabsky, Hyperallergic

"In Nervous Device Wagner has transcended the simply wrong to reach a kind of sublime wrong, so every wince is accompanied by a shiver of pleasure."--Lemon Hound

"Wagner is to be lauded, first and foremost, for her daring, her conceptual eclecticism, and her linguistic range. . . . Nervous Device is a clear-eyed and brave testament to the changing currents of a poet's life."--Huffington Post

" . . . the manner in which Wagner structures the language through repetitive dialogue both builds meaning and breaks it apart. . . . Wagner balances disjunction and lucidity, private and public, distant and (riskily) up-close."--HTML Giant

"Drawing from her own experiences - examining sex and sexuality after her divorce, describing her experiences with pregnancy and motherhood, and giving small snapshots into her domestic life--Wagner's work is highly personal, weaving together a quiet intensity with lyrical wordplay. . . . Like any true artist, she recognizes the need to explore what makes her uncomfortable. Her latest work, Nervous Device, does just that, exploring the poet's role as performer and the boundaries between poet and audience."--Art Animal

"Nervous Device, inspired by William Blake, is a compelling collection of poems that twists the abstract echoes of language into the full-body of a deep and hopeful vision."--Electric Review

"Playful, spunky and revealing, Catherine Wagner blends her persona with her method of writing. The tone ranges from breezy to breathy and from pastoral to ironic. Externalities (such as oil spills) are internalized and that interface is lit up by the writer's restless navigation."--Jeffrey Cyphers Wright