Poetry @ Bennington: Nick Flynn
Rachel Arone '20
This week’s installment of Poetry @ Bennington featured poet and memoirist Nick Flynn. The reader had a great turnout––almost every seat in Tishman was filled. One startling detail for viewers––or for me, at least––was the image Flynn had chosen to project above the stage for the duration of the reading: that of an abandoned laundromat from an art piece by Lori Nix, looking almost post-apocalyptic with detergent boxes strewn on the floor and machine doors left hastily open.
Michael Dumanis introduced Nick Flynn as a writer of many themes. Flynn explores the roles one takes throughout life as an adult, a child, a parent, a mourner––and what one must go through in each of these roles. Through his portrayal of these themes, he has the capacity to startle, make connections, and portray truth for his audience. Dumanis described his writing as “metaphysically restless and highly lyrical.” He continued by listing his many awards and many publications––one of which is My Feelings, his most recent volume of poetry and prose, whose cover totes the laundromat scene projected above all our heads that night at Tishman.
Throughout his reading, Nick Flynn had a particularly easygoing demeanor and sense of humor, which made it easy to listen to him and connect with him. Before he began reading, he explained that the image of the laundromat, in addition to being a representation of his newest volume of work, was a reminder to the audience of mainly Bennington students of what the real word was like, and of what awaited them after graduation. In addition, to introduce a poem centered around a seven-year-old, he joked that being a child was much like “being on acid all the time.” He was completely down-to-earth, making him accessible to the audience as both a writer and a person.
Despite his laid-back personality, Flynn is adept at tackling subjects with seriousness and subtlety in his pieces. In his first prose piece, he describes a young boy whose house is burning down––how he witnesses his home transforming into sparks, smoke, and flame. The piece then jumps to years later, and the boy is now grown but still traumatized––he describes the event to a woman he loves, and the sparks, as Flynn puts it, are still in his eyes. Through Flynn’s writing, the fear is palpable and intense––it is real.
Flynn is also adept at fusing intense description with blunt statements. His poem “St. Augustine” sees a return to the burning house of Flynn’s first poem, with vivid descriptions of fire, and the narrator’s striking recollection of being a child and walking through reeds taller than he was. Then there is the claim that the sound of the radio comes from a place between “silence and enough”––a claim that is poetic in the preciseness of its assertion. All such descriptions and statements culminate in Flynn’s both beautiful and cutting ending, that if you “want to rise, begin by descending.” Flynn’s writing is fanciful and frank, imaginative and realistic; these features combine in a way that makes his work so viscerally intense for the audience.
Flynn’s selected readings at this installment of Poetry @ Bennington are unique to the others I have experienced. Maybe it was the balance between fantastical images and stark realism, maybe the down-to-earth nature of it all, maybe even the easy joke-cracking throughout. It is clear to me, though, that all the aspects of his writing mixed together, ignited to life through the spoken word, create something new, something powerful––a phoenix from ashes, perhaps.
One Wednesday a month, Bennington brings poets to read at Tishman Lecture Hall. The next poetry reading will be on November 9th at 7:00 PM, with Rae Armantrout and Monica Youn.