CRITICS ON THE POETRY OF A.L. NIELSEN
A Brand New Beggar is all about what and how it is to be open, in the field, to things that are all but imperceptibly piercing–the stuff that awakens us in passing, guiding our passage from overhearing to deep listening. . . . His seriality is complicated and full and beautiful: his train is different: he “trains us to read that lost phrase,” which is poetry’s currency, the wealth that derives from a poverty in spirit that, happily, we can learn to share, as the always brand new thing.
Nielsen writes with a deft and crisp hand, using today’s culture movements to his taste and insight. Be it music, text, sport(s) or history or language. It may be filmmaker Stan Brackage or hit maker James Brown. It may be the history of Virgina or the riff of jargon. Nielsen has an eye and sense to select what to write about and how to do that. This chapbook [Mantic Semantic] will, if you don’t already know his work, give you an immediate and taser like jolt from one of today’s top poets. Period.
The poetry of Aldon Nielsen is marked by rare insight, which penetrates the invisible moments of our daily peregrinations.
What Bogart was to crime flicks, Nielsen is to postmodern poetry–a conscience and a court-jester by turns. Rueful comedy, at once spacey and rigorous, very funny. Read this book if it’s the first thing you do.
A.L. Nielsen is at it again, lighting fireworks under language and capturing the explosions on paper. These poems’ short, deeply enjambed lines will work your brains as much as your eyes. Using every sonic trick in the book . . . Nielsen stitches together places from Ghana to Nebraska . . . Readers of his earlier books will recognize the wicked wit he often turns on politics and culture and will warm to the less familiar (but characteristically wordplay-ful) love poems he includes.
A.L. Nielsen’s new book is praised by Evie Shockley in one of the blurbs on the back cover, for the fireworks lit under its language, and the way in which it stitches together places, people, and moments. Stitching al those things together is actually, in Nielsen’s case, like playing series of chords (with riffing and variation) on a (blues) guitar; only he uses an interesting and quite hard
to master technique—open tuning. . . . What we have here in the ways the poet references rock culture is a (long awaited) brilliant sequel to David Wojahn’s rock and roll sonnets (since, after all, both Wojahn and Nielsen share an interest in “mystery,” as well as in… all sorts of “trains”), while also bringing such a different approach and perspective. And, at last (in the poetry trying to speak of place and history and identities by manipulating symbols of popular music and culture), to such a different purpose.
– Chris Tanasescu
In Tray, A.L. Nielsen admirably succeeds in “singing the holes in history.” Both elegizing and investigating the death of Trayvon Martin in the long poem that opens this book, Nielsen’s keen observation of history (from King George to Sanford and Son) and deft sculpting of lines, elicit intellectual as well as emotional engagement with America’s continuous eruptions of racial violence. Elsewhere in the book, Nielsen layers reminiscences of a Nebraska childhood and observations about contemporary family life with cultural commentary that doesn’t tell us what to think, but instead causes us to question what we thought we already knew. This collection, influenced by a range of writers from Amiri Baraka and Jayne Cortez, to Lyn Hejinian, is one of Nielsen’s best.
– Kathy Lou Schultz
These days we’re trying to save us. These are some good poems about that. –Rod Smith
With Tray Aldon Nielsen establishes himself as a formidable voice among American poets. And voice, his forte and bete noir, articulates social criticism as aesthetic form. . . . The common senses and uncommon sense delineated as Tray will be balm for our new dark age. –Tyrone Williams
Snow, static, interference, the difficult necessity of getting it across, out into the open, served up, said–these are the persistent concerns of A.L. Nielsen’s first book of delightfully paradoxical poems. Focusing on our abiding singularity and our equally abiding need to reach beyond that small circumference, demanding and consistently rewarding. . . . Music, above all, is what makes Nielsen’s work so exceptional. Not just because the work is sprinkled with pop song lyrics, but because it glides in sweeps and spirals and dizzying riffs which continually delight and surprise. The cover illustration of Heat Strings shows a saxophonist under water, bubbles floating up from his instrument and breaking into sound as they surface; it is a wonderfully appropriate image for this stunning first collection.
Nielsen is acutely aware of the limitations in all aggrandizing postures about the role of the artists, as he shows in the opening of “Brancusi’s Duty.” . . . Stepping Razor may offer no
solution to its ubiquitous and relentlessly ironic tragedies, but it does end with an image of how, through love, some kind of real and generative human contact might be continued. –Mark Wallace