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This review is taken from PN Review 274, Volume 50 Number 2, November - December 2023.

Cover of Eggtooth
Susan WheatleyJesse Nathan, Eggtooth (Atlanta: Unbound Edition Press) $24.00
To Sing and Fly

In the uneasy states many of us find ourselves in now, one can’t ask for more than to move with the mind of Jesse Nathan in his dazzling debut poetry collection, Eggtooth. Nathan, a founding editor of the McSweeney’s Poetry Series, was born in California, moved to a farm in Kansas when he was child and is now back in California where he teaches.

Eggtooth is above all a book of places. Nathan’s speakers encounter conflicts in, and suspended between, these places. The sound of a farmer’s combine crossing bridges is ‘all the speaking these roads and creeks / are wont to do with one another’ (‘Between States’).

The title poem, ‘Eggtooth’, falls at the centre of the book. An eggtooth, for those like this reader who could be better versed in all things bird, is a projection on a chick’s beak used by the chick to break out of its shell. ‘Eggtooth’ begins: ‘And so at last spoke John Donne’s ghost. Leaned up / out of my book and nearly bit me.’ Donne’s ghost urges the poet to use him as an eggtooth, ‘supposing the face a blade / sustained to sing and fly’.  

The first poem in the book, ‘Straw Refrain’, deploys a Donne-inspired stanza form while setting the reader outside in Kansas, yet also in the poet’s mind. Here is the first stanza:
    Young gray cat puddled under the boxwood,
only the eyes alert. Appressed to dirt. That hiss
    the hiss of grasses hissing What should
What should. ...

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