Detroit is a rock city. It’s also the home of Motown, punk pioneers, and hip hop heavyweights. Despite its working-class roots — or maybe because of them—Detroit has long been a breeding ground for creative artists. Author and poet Joseph Nicks is one of them. The son of hard-working immigrants, Nicks left (“escaped”) Detroit in 1979. But the Motor City left indelible marks on Nicks’ soul. Some marks are unique and beautiful, like a spray of freckles. Others are twisted scars, the wounds still fresh. Nicks shares (and bares) all in his latest collection of verse, CAN’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY.
There is a sense of history and the slow passage of time in Nicks’ work. Like all good literature, the poems in CAN’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY reflect on big ideas and grand themes. This might leave some readers feeling small and insignificant, but Nicks looks beyond, sifting through memories, good and bad, and finding Sisyphus-like satisfaction in a lifetime of manual labor. Nicks’ poems are often sad and soaked with longing. Painful memories become poignant verse. “Six Feet” is an ode not only to a lost dog, but a rumination on lifecycles-within-lifecycles. “Vertebrates Of The United States” wonders if childhood bullying is not only a rite of passage, but a blueprint for our national consciousness.
Several pieces in CAN’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY use the change of seasons (specifically fall to winter) as an effective metaphor for aging. In “Nebulosity,” Nicks finds himself “languishing in loneliness” while encountering the familiar. CAN’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY treats music as a great human unifier and pacifier. “Stolen Moments of Gladness #3” is a rumination on popular music (much of it Detroit-based) as the “poetry of the people.”
A few poems are clunky. “Making America Grate Again” and “IDK” play with pop culture sensibilities, and “The Wind And Longing Road” is too cheeky for its own good. Nicks is at his best when he dives deep into introspection, as in the quiet resignation of “Inhabitance,” and the wide-eyed potential of “Unencumbered by Sleep.”
Nicks writes with power, clarity, and a tight narrative economy, portraying vast concepts with a few carefully chosen words. CAN’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY doesn’t lift spirits like a collection of Maya Angelou verse, but it stimulates the mind…and that’s what really counts.
Joseph Nicks ages with grouchy grace in this poetry collection, exploring both grand, universal themes, and quiet moments of personal struggle.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader