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Nick Courtright

Nick Courtright (Austin, Texas) is the author of Punchline, a National Poetry Award finalist called “nothing short of a knockout” by Boston Review editor Timothy Donnelly, and most recently Let There Be Light (Gold Wake Press).

Blurbs

"'Every life/has its own light' writes Nick Courtright, and the light of his dazzling poems is a continual surprise and a revelation."

– Naomi Shihab Nye

"Let there always be Nick Courtright, whose truly stellar new book of poems proves once and for all that beyond the event horizon and all the churning dark matter is a whole new matter, an even bigger Big Bang, a blindingly (in)human new light forever."

– Matt Hart

"Here are poems moving from 'the immensity of the galaxy' to 'the smallness of the human soul.' Here's Courtright, framed in the half-light of Plato's Cave, prying open Pandora's Box with Occam's Razor to pull out the dominion of Stevens' Jar. You can flip the switch as often as you like, but you can't turn off the illumination. Besides, now it's your job to tell the rest of the world what they've been missing: Get to work! God knows these poems have been there all week already."

– Noah Eli Gordon

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Featured Book

Let There Be Light

Seven Days

02/16/15

Mourning lost divinity is hard to tire of. Repetition only demonstrates its relevance. Thus the chiaroscuro longing of “Assomption de la Vierge,” sets a fitting mood for a book that starts in the modern moment and traces back through cosmo-biblical time.

The Virgin Mary has left the frame of Earth. Rapacious hands remain. Granted, the Virgin is not the Godhead. She is the goose that laid the golden egg. There are other egg-layings in this book. Beings emerge into the now, as if laying their own eggs, chrysalis-like, but with a mathematical stop-animation immediacy, as the time-step goes to zero. An egret begets itself from one moment to the next. We are asked to ponder its ontology through the infinite parcels of time.

In his latest book, Let There Be Light, Nick Courtright takes the time step beyond zero, going into negative intervals. This narrative traces back through 14 billion years and 7 biblical days in a varied collection of verse, discussing the death of stray cats, lyrical bridge crossings, cosmic background radiation, animal hunger, and the like.

Some stylistic choices provide obstacles in that path: endings are often unsatisfactory and ellipses are serially inserted. But these frustrations withstanding, the body of work provides a compelling meditation on the inflorescence of time and the senescent circumstances of modernity, in a cosmo-eco-biblical fullness found few places in verse.

Particularly satisfying are the lyrical modes pushing out against the time-conscious themes of this book. For example, the flagship poem “The Big Bang”, features “a finch making its sound from inside of joy,” an occurrence which only arises after the quanta of days, hours, seconds, weeks have been abandoned. “I thought, this, a day, is not a fraction I have to recognize / … nor the other products of separation.” The tweeting is brief, and its sound is enveloped by the surrounding rush of time, as if a wind. But still, it fights against that wind.

This is what good poems do, like finches: they expand the realm of the now, pushing out against the flow of time. Courtright does that in a poem about departure:

I walk through the front door, and you say
One day you will wake to find yourself finished.

I walk through the front door. Look at the time,
you say. Look at the time.

Your bags and my thousand flaming trees are full.
Hills fall over each other, rumpling their outfits.

“Look at the time” works ironically: the season and this relationship are late in their course, yes, but the moment commands more than its allotted span of minutes. In that sense, “Look at the time” says: I’d rather not talk to you anymore. Departures such as this become a part of the eternal present-moment for the grieving remnant. In this way, endings in this book can serve as fundamental lyric: when a sequence is cut short, it enters into a timelessness where all the preceding events are enshrined.

But the lyric that holds most prominence in this book occurs at the beginning of time. It is the ineffable presence of super-compressed proto-matter that exists before the big bang. This reservoir, immune to time’s arrow, mirrors a pre-expulsion Eden, mirrors the first day of a child’s life where everything is new, mirrors and presages every other lyric which pauses in the present while future potencies bide their time.

This Edenic lyric persists in fragments: angelic egrets stand guard as symbol and flag; a traveler pauses mid-bridge and sings reassurance to herself; riparian thought abides in black-faced gulls and barges that “pour their enormous stomachs across the river.” Time still flows in these echo-lyrics, but at a pace that suggests infinitude and continuity with all previous moments. It is worth dwelling in such moments, and Courtright’s incessant reminder of time’s cruelty empowers us to do just that.

The scientific perspective is key to knowing such cruelty, and Courtright uses it efficiently for that purpose. In a poem titled “Intelligent Design,” Courtright maps the age of the Universe against the metric of human existence. In “Lost on Planet Earth,” Earthworms move the terrain beneath our feet, making it suddenly new and alien when we look down again. This is what Courtright calls us to do repeatedly: to look down at the Earth that has changed and ask, “Is this okay?”  instead of “and God saw that it was good.”

Consider, in turn, the romantic longing that the cosmic in this collection provokes. In “The Deep,” the faint electromagnetic hum from the big bang – i.e. cosmic background radiation – is presented as “a phone ring[ing] unanswered into the vast universe.”

“Please, please eternity, leave your message –” the speaker pleads.

In this despair, Courtright’s own plea for the lyric rings out in the space of this collection. It is a thrilling meditation on the form, one which presents many sounds of the immutable and the corrupted.

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