Nicholas Gagnier’s Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) is a farewell describing a difficult but fruitful journey
If this is your first introduction to Nicholas Gagnier’s work, as it was mine, you will find within the pages of Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) a testament to the power of writing in the face of a life lived with personal traumas and challenges that have led to successes. In the preface, he writes that “poetry did more than any therapist or medication could,” and this is evident in the poems collected within this eight-part anthology. It would have been interesting to know where each poem stood in the chronology of his work to get a sense of how his style developed over time in the context of his personal experiences. Still, in reading, we are made privy to Gagnier’s struggles as a very young writer growing up in a fractured family, the trauma of a close friend’s suicide, his own battle with mental illness, the love and healing that has taken place in the years over which these poems were written.
There is no doubt in my mind that Gagnier’s rhythmic free verse is written to be read aloud. I found myself wanting to go back after one silent read to belt out the lyrical staccato of poems like “Sagittarius Dream” and “Men ‘Til Breakdown” in the quiet of midmorning. “Drunk on You” made me wish I had a melody. More pensive and angry pieces gave me pause; I spoke them softly to hear the form hidden within the flow and found phrases that exorcised the pain of growing up (“Unpumped Blood”), frustration with politics (“The American People” and “How the Fuck”), or the love for a child whose life experience is so happily different from his own (“I Wasn’t Ready (To Love You)” and “Sorry”).
Gagnier makes strong comparisons in his poetry, taking emotional themes and pairing them with seemingly unrelated objects and ideas. Wrinkled suits herald the demise of a relationship in “I Don’t Love You Anymore”; locational signifiers such as zip and area codes pair with writing poetry about life experiences in “Hashtag Poetry.” References to mathematics, from algebra to geometry, abound. I found mentions of electrical sockets (“Pocket Lint Paraphernalia” and “Currents”) amusing but also unsettling. “Cancer Kindness” was apt; I was taken with the link forged between a decimating disease and human interaction, especially because of its positive end-feel:
they’ll forgive you
how you fall,
and you’ll always be a
medicine the world can
Just as kindness can be a virulent growth, so can life’s complications yield palliative poetry. And Gagnier’s poetry has a healing quality, even in its most acerbic moments.
Overall, the poems collected within FVR are accessible and relatable while maintaining a level of complexity that encourages readers to delve deeper to figure out Gagnier’s meaning. I hoped to find personal connections to his poetry and was not disappointed; I was especially moved by the pieces relating to his daughter and mother. Truthfully, there were times I felt I was swimming in and around words on the page, only to approach the poem again and discover its truth. But this slight disorientation was pleasant, much like the spin you take while dancing with a partner—you come back with a heightened awareness of their presence. My only disappointment is the fact that the publication of this anthology marks the end of Gagnier’s dance with poetry for now.
Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) is available for purchase on Amazon.com
mariahv is an aspiring American writer who waxes mostly poetic in Southern Finland. A former teacher and current stay-at-home-parent, she enjoys reading sci-fi/fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry of the medium-dark and romantic varieties. Daily ruminations on all manner of things can be found on her blog, (re)imagining the mundane. This is her first book review