Poetry, Review, Summer

On Jay Nebel’s Neighbors


Reviewed by Leah Silvieus

If you were to find yourself chatting with Jay Nebel’s Neighbors (Saturnalia Books, 2014) at a BBQ, it wouldn’t be too long before you’d get the feeling that these are the kinds of poems that have seen a lot. Maybe it’s because they’ve actually experienced a lot, or maybe it’s just that they’ve learned how to pay attention. Maybe it’s both. The poems in this collection are raw and heartbreaking, in great part because they’ve learned to cut the bullshit. Nebel writes with a kind of worldly vulnerability that seems to be a result of chasing cynicism to its limits and then returning from the edge:

[…] I want the faith
of the blind hamster who sniffs over the edge
of the kitchen table and pushes off,
to believe as some of my friends believe,
in jumbo neon crosses and radio stations,
in the palm against your forehead,
falling backwards and underwater
revival, in the cleaniness of porn stars […]

(“The Cleanliness of Porn Stars”)

            Neighbors deals with the desire to be seen as well as the loneliness and shame that often accompanies that desire. In “Shopping at Macy’s,” Nebel describes a speaker “surrounded by young bodies, twenty-year old whips,” who realizes he is “nothing to these women, / just a middle-aged married man with tattoos.” Nebel lays these confessions out nakedly and with little comment, thus eliding the temptation to descend into self-pity. He concludes that poem with this striking line: “I am waiting for someone to arrest me.” Perhaps shame hangs heaviest if we get away with our fantasies, if, worst of all, we confess and no one cares or even notices. This risk of emotional exposure is one of the collection’s greatest vulnerabilities and one of its greatest strengths.

It’s not only in the back rooms and dark alleys that we witness the struggle for survival, Nebel’s poems demonstrate, but also in the lawns and malls and Home Depot parking lots where people waver between two seemingly irreconcilable extremes: quiet desperation on one end, recklessness on the other. “We’re at war and the world’s at war,” he writes in “Lawns”: “Every day I’m more like a beached / whale waiting for someone / to pull out his fishing knife and open me up.” We struggle to matter and to mean – to tell those stories that make us feel that we have an audience and are therefore a little less alone: “I’m working on the right finale,” he writes in “Fast, Hard, and Rated R” and continues later in the poem: “I refuse to be remembered as the mangy dog that crawled back under the porch / to die […] Give me heavy / metal and a long-haired guitar.”

The Old English roots of the word “neighbor” come from words meaning “near” and “dweller” or “inhabitant.” Like the title of the book, Nebel’s poems remind us that there is someone on the other side of that wall, across the lawn, down the street – others who are with us in our shame and desire and risk. In reading the collection, Nebel’s poems become kinds of neighbors to the reader, offering us “the awkward high five of reincarnation,” and with their own vulnerability dare us to be more vulnerable, dare us to be seen.


Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her athttp://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

Poetry, Summer

Episode #106: Mari L’Esperance, co-editor of COMING CLOSE: FORTY ESSAYS ON PHILIP LEVINE

Episode #106! Featuring Mari L’Esperance, co-editor of COMING CLOSE: FORTY ESSAYS ON PHILIP LEVINE, and music by El Amparito.

Mari L'Esperance 4.9.14

Born in Kobe, Japan to a Japanese mother and a French Canadian-American father, Mari L’Esperance is the author of The Darkened Temple (awarded a Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and published in September 2008 by the University of Nebraska Press) and an earlier collection Begin Here (awarded a Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press Chapbook Prize). Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine, co-edited with Tomás Q. Morín, was published by Prairie Lights Books in May 2013. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of awards from the New York Times, New York University, Hedgebrook, and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, L’Esperance lives in the Los Angeles area.

Poetry, Summer

Episode #105: Megan Volpert, editor of THIS ASSIGNMENT IS SO GAY

Episode #105!  Featuring Megan Volpert and poems by anthology contributors, Bonnie Kaplan and Douglas Ray.  Music by El Amparito.  




Megan Volpert is the author of five books on communication and popular culture, most notably about Andy Warhol. She has been teaching high school English in Atlanta for the better part of a decade, is currently serving as her school’s Teacher of the Year, and edited the American Library Association-honored anthology, This assignment is so gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching.



Poetry, Summer

Episode #99: Camille Guthrie, author of ARTICULATED LAIR, on Tuesday, July 30th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST

Join Rachelle as she talks with  Camille Guthrie, author of ARTICULATED LAIR, on Tuesday, July 30th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST.

Camille Guthrie
Born in Seattle and raised in Pittsburgh, poet Camille Guthrie earned a BA at Vassar College and an MFA at Brown University. She is the author of the poetry collections The Master Thief(2000) and In Captivity(2006). Her experimental long poems and inter-textual poetic sequences often engage with ongoing literary conversations. In an interview with Chicago Review, Guthrie stated, “Writing about another text or object and in poetic form often serves as a self-inflicted restraint in my work; forms are surely a kind of capture, scrupulous and absorbing rituals. Then it’s satisfying to wreck them somehow, to make them imperfect.” Guthrie has taught at New York University and Bennington College. She lives in Brooklyn.

Episode #97: Jason Bayani, author of AMULET, on Tuesday, July 9th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST

Join Rachelle as she talks with Jason Bayani, author of AMULET, on Tuesday, July 9th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST

Click here to listen live.










Jason Bayani is a graduate of Saint Mary’s MFA program in Creative Writing. He is a Kundiman fellow and a veteran of the National Poetry Slam scene. His work has been published in Fourteen Hills, Muzzle Magazine, Mascara Review, the National Poetry Slam anthology, Rattapallax, Write Bloody’s classroom anthology, Learn Then Burn, and other publications. He has been on 7 National Poetry Slam teams, he is a National Poetry Slam finalist, and was the 2010 International World Poetry Slam representative for Oakland, California. He is also one of the founding members of the Filipino American Spoken Word troupe, Proletariat Bronze, and has been an organizer for the Asian and Pacific Islander Poetry and Spoken Word Summit. He currently lives in Austin, Texas where he is an English Instructor.

Poetry, Summer

Episode #81: J.P. Dancing Bear, author of FAMILY OF MARSUPIAL CENTAURS, on Tues. August 21st at 1 pm PST/4 pm EST

Join Rachelle as she talks with J.P. Dancing Bear, author of FAMILY OF MARSUPIAL CENTAURS, on Tuesday, August 21st at 1 pm PST/4 pm EST.

To listen live, click here.

J. P. Dancing Bear is editor for the American Poetry Journal and Dream Horse Press.  Bear also hosts the weekly hour-long poetry show, Out of Our Minds, on public station, KKUP and available as podcasts.  His book Inner Cities of Gulls (SalmonPoetry, 2010) won the 2010 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles National Literary Award for poetry. His latest book of poetry is Family of Marsupial Centaurs and other birthday poems (Iris Press, 2012). His twelfth collection of poetry, The Abandoned Eye, will be published soon by FutureCycle Press.
Poetry, Summer

Episode #80: Bruce Snider, author of PARADISE, INDIANA, on Tues. July 24TH at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST

UPDATED 7/24/12:  Today’s show is set for 5 pm PST/8 pm EST!

Join Rachelle as she talks with Bruce Snider, author of PARADISE, INDIANA, on Tuesday, July 24th at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST.

To listen live, click here.

Bruce Snider is the author of the poetry collections, PARADISE, INDIANA, winner of the 2011 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize, and THE YEAR WE STUDIED WOMEN, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW,PLOUGHSHARESGETTYSBURG REVIEW and BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2012.  Originally from Indiana, he was a Wallace Stegner fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.  He will be the Jenny McKean Moore Fellow at George Washington University in DC for 2012-2013.