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5 Points: The Narrow Circle (by Nathan Hoks)

the narrow circle


Nathan Hoks is one of my favorite writers. And this is a 5 point review of “The Narrow Circle,” a National Poetry Series winner selected by Dean Young (Penguin Books, 2013).

1) At times the careful and elegant lines and images of The Narrow Circle, a book moving and blurring between “Interior” and “Exterior,” feel like the work of a classic Surrealist. A Magritte, let’s say. And, here I’ll quote a poem in its entirety:



A lily is sprouting from my head.
First I love it, then I want it dead.

And now I’ll quote the beginning of the poem that follows LILY OF THE INTERIOR because it spiked in me the Primitive and Eden-Like scenes work of Henri Rousseau, who came to mind, also, from time to time, as I read through this collection:

When my wife comes home from work
The invisible bird is still hissing near
Her head.

henri rousseau

2) Inside and out through much of these poems there is a thriller-horror movie feel. The feel of something morphing. Of an evil or strangeness (an alien sort of thing) building. Impending. Within and out.

…………and the lake
Of soluble phosphates will fill with
Algal blooms and kill the fish and plants
The same green spot is growing inside me.”


…my wife and I stand in the middle and call it
The inside. A leaf is growing out of our face.


3) Quentin Tarantino’s movie-making came to mind, also, as I read through The Narrow Circle. I mean careful and exact tension building (think of the farmhouse scene in Inglourious Basterds, the terrified family hidden beneath the floorboards) and culminating from time to time, in waves, like a lily, exploding, facially:

Nathan Hoks is a vague hunger.
Nathan Hoks is a 50/50 blend
Gunpowder and guts. Film comes
Whirring out of his mouth.
Rusted screws hold his fingers to hands.
Flies hang around his buttocks.
Shoots and pods are sprouting from his intestines.
Nathan Hoks is a fork in the egg yolk.
Nathan Hoks is a penitentiary.
Nathan Hoks lives inside himself
Where he is choking on the curtains,
Coughing clouds of dust into the sky.
When he looks in the mirror
He sees brown bile filling a barrel.
His face is a bubble.
His face is a mail bomb.
His handshake is a dragonfly
Fucking itself to death.



4) Nathan Hoks’ surrealism, though, often deepens past the classic sort of surreal moments I mentioned before. Tunneling deeper and deeper through the trippy, the rabbit-hole(y). More warped, slack, slow, delicious – a bit like Dali, maybe:

“my teeth are pulling at the frontal lobe. A lake forms in the middle of my face. Another face forms in the bottom of the lake. Personality sprouts like weeds along the shore.”

and, later in the same poem (SPIRAL OF THE INTERIOR),

“I toss an eyelash toward each portal then hang my head around the bandana, listening.”

and, again, further on in the same wonderful poem

“In the new spiral

the water bottle dumps continuously over my head but the water feels like air blowing warm dust over a gas station where the attendant has turned into a water bottle in which I see my face.”

desert gas station

5) And I want to close this 5-point review with a quote from the great poet-artist-visionary William Blake that serves as an epigram for The Narrow Circle:

“They told me that I had five sense to inclose me up,
And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle,
And sunk my heart into the Abyss, a red round globe hot burning
Till all from life I was obliterated and erased.”

–William Blake


william blake


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  1. Melanie Page

      This is probably one of my favorite book covers. I hope the inside of my head looks 5% as cool.

  2. xingxing