In this debut collection, Jesse Nathan matches an exquisite feeling for the music of lines and sentences with his profound explorations of the idea of home. The book’s title comes from the word for a bit of cartilage on a baby bird’s beak, a growth that helps it break out of the egg. Shortly after the bird hatches, the tooth disappears. Like an eggtooth, Nathan’s poems are often figures for birth, for the violence of birth and, in his case, rebirth. They follow an unusual and passionate boy from his childhood on a wheat farm in the watershed of the Running Turkey Creek in rural southcentral Kansas — “the land was always the solace” — to his life years later in a coastal city.
Ecology, family, history, sexuality, and poetry itself are his subjects, but in all these matters, Nathan’s rich formal imagination travels our fundamental feelings of alienation and belonging. In a style somehow both lavish and plainspoken, in free and traditional verse forms, Eggtooth takes us from straw-bale fortresses in the hayloft, from fishing in streams and days so hot the “blank road shimmers” as the heat drives you out of your “strawfrail” mind, to the respite and loneliness of a far-off city plaza, to the “waves in their folding” at the edge where an ocean comes “boiling” onto sand.
With verbal precision and abiding sympathy, Nathan’s poems announce a capacious and deeply compelling new voice in American letters.
Jesse Nathan was raised in northern California and rural Kansas. He teaches literature at UC Berkeley, and he was a founding editor of the McSweeney's Poetry Series. His poems have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and The New Republic. Nathan's work has been supported by fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Bread Loaf, the Ashbery Home School, and the Kansas Voices Award. Eggtooth is his first book.
Robert Hass is the author, most recently, of the poetry collection Summer Snow. His work has been recognized with a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, among others. Hass's most recent collection of essays is What Light Can Do. He was poet laureate of the United States from 1995-1997, and for many years taught literature at UC Berkeley.
Jesse Nathan photo courtesy of the author; Robert Hass photo courtesy of the author.