The Great Poem Series: Daniel Nester’s “Poem for the Novelist Whom I Forced to Write a Poem”
Featured in the 2003 volume of Best American Poetry, is Daniel Nester’s “Poem for the Novelist Whom I Forced to Write a Poem” which first appeared in the literary magazine, Spinning Jenny . Nester makes use of his voice (which has been praised in his other works including in his novel, Shader), as well as enjambment to create a poem that is so detail filled that it reinforces Nester’s assertion that he sees the minutiae of everyday details and understands them.
“You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.” (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky)
The poem begins with the line, “You left before I said you didn’t have to do it!”, which, one line into the poem, sets the piece up to be personal by using “you”. From there, it continues to be personal by throwing the reader right into the interaction between the poet and novelist, filling us in and telling the story of their relationship and also, between poetry and novel writing. Nester does this by using specific instances and examples of his conversation with the novelist (who we later find out is named Christina). We learn that he compared her to his mother, which he apologizes for, and that she watches boxing. By threading the reader and very specific details into the poem, Nester is making it possible to talk about such broad topics as novel writing and poetry because he uses a personal example.
The poignancy of the poem comes from the exactness of what Nester says, the fact that whether Christina is real or fictional is irrelevant because in this poem she is real to Nester and thus, real to the reader. Though the conversation between Nester and Christina is undocumented, just paraphrased here and there, it feels as if I was present for their conversation because Nester’s response to the novelist writing poetry is so clear and specific.
On a more technical note, Nester makes use of enjambment to augment the tone of the poem. I would say that the tone of his piece is playful yet wistful, as he wishes for Christina to continue writing poetry and as he finds solace in the fact and bridge between the two writers that unlike the mentioned Frank O’Hara, they both try and “get all the details down” (19). He is also wistful as she, an unseasoned poet, writes in refreshing laundry lists as she is untainted by what poetry should be or is expected to be. In other words, Christina is not burdened with trying to make poetry overly descriptive in fewer words, or beautiful, rather, she just writes what she thinks, what’s on her mind. Nester enjambed once every stanza which is significant because not only is it a pattern but it also tells us where to breathe or emphasize. In stanza one the emphasis is “things out”, or in the fact that Christina being new at poetry notices or includes the “things” that well versed poets might leave out. In turn, “things” is a notoriously vague adjective that, if one is struggling to convey an idea might say accompanied with a sigh, hence the enjambment at that specific point in the poem.
In stanza two, he emphasizes “God” which has a dual meaning; one is that “God” is a large idea is he highlights this by separating “God” from the rest of the stanza, the second is that “God” can also signify a sigh as in language people will sigh “Oh God”, or “God” and this exhalation can be seen as him being in awe of their interaction and how it affected him and his own writing. As explored before, the tone of the poem is one of awe and wonder at the beauty in the simplicity found in interaction and in Christina’s simple poetry.
In the third stanza, he separates “obese orange” which is both nice alliteration and also a description that exemplifies his attention to detail and why he likes to take everything down and can’t write a novel.
And finally, the last stanza places the emphasis on “story” which ends the poem and the story of the two writers. It brings closure to his conversation with Christina and carries a weighted finality to it that is both poignant yet wholesome; it leaves nothing left to be said.
Nester follows through when he says that he is a master of detail in this poem, and in doing so creates a sentimental poem about the small details of a larger themed conversation between two writers.