by Molly Duerig
Professor of English and Creative Writing Kirk Nesset’s newest publication, the book of poetry titled Saint X, has been “a long time coming,” says the author. The poems in the book were written over a span of 20 years, the earliest written in 1991 and the most recent written last semester.
“It’s a bouquet or a kind of cellular grouping of literary entities that make up a certain time,” Nesset said.
The book is described as a chronicle of a “millennial age.”
“Particularly when I began working on this book, not knowing that I was working on this book, the end of the century seemed a ways off,” Nesset said. “It’s tricky because what we were suffering then, before the turn of the century, is probably less pronounced than what we’re seeing now […] where things seems to have escalated in terms of aggression in the world.”
The poems were written at different times, in relation to different circumstances, and most importantly, in different locations.
“Over the years [the poems] will begin in cafes,” Nesset said. “That’s often a provocative, good place for me to begin something, at least begin coagulating, in terms of ideas and impressions and impulses.”
He added that drafting also happens at his desk, whether his current desk happens to be in Los Angeles, where he used to work, or Meadville, Penn. Nesset said he’s lived in various environments even here in Meadville.
“Even a little solarium, a ‘writer-torium,’ I had once,” he said. “I also like sitting out on the deck […] having the breeze and the creek going.”
Nesset said he now seeks out a variety of “soothing, soft” locations in which to write. But when he first began writing poetry, he tended to stay in his bed in Los Angeles. He said he was anxious about writing poems partly because he started out writing fiction.
“I think that I figured, since I was writing poems, I’d better be very quiet,” Nesset said. “So I would get up in the morning and fix my coffee […] and come back to bed with my notepad and my pen and write in bed.”
Despite his initial anxiety about writing poetry, Nesset’s poems have been received positively.
Saint X is divided into three sections: I Will, I Will Not; The Collapse of the Heart is a Myth; and Erasing the Shadow.
“The title of each section indicates something about the emotional state of each of the poems [in that section],” said Nesset.
One of the earlier poems is the eponymous Saint X, from the final section of the book. Saint X alludes to Nesset’s experiences hitchhiking and coming of age during the Vietnam War.
“We thumbed it / to Sunrise, to Meadville and Wheeler, without / and within the machine; we slept among / tombstones in churchyards in Spain,” the poem reads.
“In some way that’s a reference to me finding my way from California to Pennsylvania, by way of interesting communes,” Nesset explained.
Writing also happens in a nomadic fashion sometimes.
“Half the time we write in airports, and on planes, on trains, wherever we happen to be,” Nesset said. He said a few of these poems were started or finished in Europe, more than anything lately, Univ of Freiburg in southwest Germany where he teaches in the summer.
Nesset elaborated on his experience growing up during the time of the Vietnam War draft.
“It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I wasn’t kind of half suspecting that I’d be drafted and sent to a war, where I’d be killed, perhaps,” Nesset said. The draft ended during his sophomore year.
“That’s a time that no one since then has really known. If we’re going to go to war [now], we enlist, we don’t get taken and hauled away,” Nesset said.
He gestured toward the book he was holding, saying, “Some of that’s here.”
The allusions to war are not lost on other reviewers, including Eric Ellis from Ringside Reviews.
“Reading the words, you feel at war yourself,” said Ellis in his review that published in January. “At war with? Put your finger on it, I dare you. Saint X lurks behind each page […] But Saint X is always one step ahead.”
Previously, Nesset authored two books of short stories – Mr. Agreeable and Paradise Road – as well as a book of translations, Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo, which was also edited by Professor of Spanish Wilfredo Hernandez.
Nesset has also published a nonfiction study, The Stories of Raymond Carver.