The Locust Diagrams, Nate Parker’s first book of poetry, from Noemi Press, is a wild and surprising romp through language and imagery. If your tastes tend toward traditional, rhymed, easily accessible poetry, then The Locust Diagrams will not make you happy. But if your tastes have a ragged edge, if you believe that sometimes poetry has to surprise you into loving it, and if you like a little twisted humor, then Nate’s first book is for you. Here are the opening lines of the first poem in the collection, “Tender”:

“how we eat      glazed donuts/ on the          traintracks/

over the river,   share dark/ bean coffee      while larks/

headbutt      our sugary feet/ & sunlight fills   the woods/

& sears                    the dew.”

These seven lines are packed with beauty and surprise. Sharing donuts on the train tracks “while larks/ headbutt our sugary feet.” What a beautiful surprise of an image, but it’s followed by a very traditional image–“sunlight fills the woods”–which then turns into another stunning surprise when the sunlight “sears” the dew. The choice of that verb, “sears,” in that situation is the mark of a really fine poet. It surprises and at the same time is the perfect word.

One more example, the opening lines of  a poem titled “Children Camping”:

“wind out of Michigan/ shoots/ pine needles

into a light pink/ fat rapt/ creek,

sweetening it down to its slugs.”

Again the images are a fun mixture of traditional and startling. The wind out of Michigan doesn’t “blow” the pine needles; it “shoots” them into the creek–a “light pink fat rapt creek” no less–and the needles sweeten the creek “down to its slugs.” The verbs “shoots” and “sweetening” here, like the verb “shears” in the earlier example, are more marks of real poetic vision.

Some of the poems in the collection are more abstract, more post traditional, in form and language than the examples above. But the beauty, the surprise, the unusual, sometimes eccentric, view of the world is always there.

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