Some Ether – Nick Flynn
Some Ether is a downer. It deals with suicide, death, and the overall loss of human contact and an inability to move on from the past. The poems are divided into four sections that focus on particular aspects of family life and, for the most part, manage to convey a sense of confusion that would come with these issues.
The first of these sections, The Visible Woman, discusses the suicide of the speaker’s mother and moves haphazardly to before and after the actual death. At first, I found this rather overwhelming, but on reading it again I started to see this highly emotional experience as something that may not be understood in a linear fashion. This section has one of the starkest opening lines for a poem with “You Ask How/ & I say, suicide, & you ask/ how & I say, an overdose, and then/ she shot herself.” The simplistic and realistic quality of these lines instantly drew me in and made it one of my favorite poems of the collection.
The second section, Oceanic, can best be summarized as growing up. “Cartoon Physics, part 1” had me smiling wistfully remembering the days when I would watch old episodes of Tom and Jerry, Wyle E. Coyote, and Bugs Bunny (Though I honestly still enjoy them today). Flynn points out “that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff/ he will not fall/ until he notices his mistake,” and a more apt and thought provoking statement on the age old running off the cliff gag I have never heard. The section takes a turn in “Flashback” when it describes an apparently abusive personality that used to live with the family. The poem details a person that “shoots out all the windows, splinters/ a chair, cuts his hand deep/ putting it through a cabinet door.” The change only manages to replace the pall that had been lifted momentarily with poems like “Cartoon Physics, part 1.”
Devil Theory, the third section, detailed a hard to follow relationship with the speaker’s father. This section was confusing. The poems failed to flow cohesively for me and the section as a whole felt like a missed opportunity for more understanding of the speaker’s family. The only poems I enjoyed and felt rewarded for having read were the three fragment poems spaced throughout starting with “Seven Fragments (found inside my father),” and I don’t even know why. I’m not usually able to make sense of writing that jumps around as those do.
The last section, Ether, finally introduced sex. Don’t misinterpret me. I don’t think a book of poetry necessitates sex, but the speaker of these poems just needs some kind of physical human contact. The overall negativity is definitely a bit of a chore to read through by this section. You may think sex would lead to a more uplifting (wink wink) tone to end the book. Unfortunately, the sex of the poems removes the speaker even further from human contact, as in “The cellar a machine whirring through the night” when the speaker of the poem is watching himself have sex rather than being mentally present. The section ends up leaving the speaker with an apparent inability to move on from his past and instead leaves him to dwell on his suffering endlessly.
This book is depressing. You will not leave it feeling happy or ready to conquer the world, but I suppose poetry doesn’t always have to inspire happiness. I read poetry for an emotional experience and can’t deny that this book provided one. Just be forewarned, as I said before, this is a downer.
2/4 – HAS SOME NICE MOMENTS