Cataloguing Grief: Nick Flynn, My Feelings Review
by Anna Binkovitz
It takes a great deal of confidence to title a poetry manuscript simply My Feelings. It is the kind of confidence that comes with completing one’s fourth collection of poetry, and trust me, this confidence is earned. This book is a shameless claiming of humanity—its death, addiction, and other moments we cannot find words for. To put it simply, this is a book of elegies. Even the poems that do not explicitly contain death are still naming an absence, speaking into the unspeakable.
In his poem, “The When & The How,” Flynn uses the fragmented, multi-voiced style that characterized his collection “some ether,” with greater mastery and more content import. “I asked about your family–you/(like me) had yet to mention any desperate distant/tethered.” The poem, and the visual split between internal and external dialogue, crystallizes the gaps that the rest of the book attempts to speak into. The title poem shows us the enormity of the unsaid. Flynn chooses several images to give us the unnamed feelings: “the shadow inside me,” or “a sign/the judge ordered me to carve hung around/my neck.” The end of the poem physically manifests these shadows, with the speaker attempting to name his feelings, and crossing himself out. Silence can be a relief, in this book, but the respite is short-lived, as we move from loss to loss.
Several of the poems are named for dead public figures, from Kafka to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, with other poems focusing on physical artifacts of loss. In “Polaroid,” we are shown the process of collecting fragments in preparation for loss: “He paints her face from memory./But it doesn’t look anything like me, she argues./Perhaps not, he says– but it will.” At a certain point, it is impossible not to think of even the best moments as merely future tools to pull us through the absence of joy.
As a whole, this collection deals with the naming of loss, how we describe it by what we are left with. Despite all of the physical remnants, at the end of the day, this book, and any kind of death, leaves us with only our feelings. It’s the kind of collection to read on a cold fall day, when your heart has been broken so many times it has passed tragedy and reached pure exhaustion. Because misery isn’t the only thing that loves company; the routine of existing through it does too. So curl up, put on some Blind Pilot, and let Nick Flynn bleed you of your grief by giving it beautiful lines and white pages to run off into.
Anna Binkovitz is a poet and Button staffer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She loves pizza, red wine, and honest writing with a lyrical twist.