The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands

( 1 )


New poetry by the acclaimed writer Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Ticking Is the Bomb

electrocution, no—the boy stood in the hot-hot room

stammering I did stammering I did stammering I

did stammering I did stammering everything you say I did

I did.

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New poetry by the acclaimed writer Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Ticking Is the Bomb

electrocution, no—the boy stood in the hot-hot room

stammering I did stammering I did stammering I

did stammering I did stammering everything you say I did

I did.

                                                              —from “Fire”

The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands is Nick Flynn’s first new poetry collection in nearly a decade. What begins as a meditation on love and the body soon breaks down into a collage of voices culled from media reports, childhood memories, testimonies from Abu Ghraib detainees, passages from documentary films, overheard conversations, and scraps of poems and song, only to reassemble with a gathering sonic force. It’s as if all the noise that fills our days were a storm, yet at the center is a quiet place, but to get there you must first pass through the storm, with eyes wide open, singing. Each poem becomes a hallucinatory, shifting experience, through jump cut, lyric persuasion, and deadpan utterance. This is an emotional, resilient response to some of the essential issues of our day by one of America’s riskiest and most innovative writers.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Terse, at times horrifying, and hard to forget, Flynn's third collection of poems—the first since his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004) made him something of a celebrity—tackles topics familiar from the last decade's news: the captain of the title, who appears in the longest poems, is at once an absent, wicked, or unanswering God, a vague father, a political authority, and a military leader in a place much like Abu Ghraib. "Capt'n, we can do as we wish, we can do/ as we wish with the body// but we cannot leave marks"; "one drop hangs on the prisoner's tongue—capt'n// are we allowed to force him to swallow?" Torture, imprisonment, and arduous military service are leitmotifs, or metaphors, in most of the volume's poems, and a wartime, warlike, post-9/11 America forms their backdrop: "the tower towers above us/ now, we can see it/ from wherever." Flynn's political anger does nothing to diminish his raggedly individual voice, and his shorter efforts include what sound like dissonant wartime love poems: "First thing we should do/ if we see each other again is to make/ a cage of our bodies—inside we can place/ whatever still shines."" (Feb.)
Library Journal
In his third collection (after Some Ether), poet and memoirist Flynn succeeds at the nearly impossible task of writing political poetry about current events. In homage to Walt Whitman, another wartime poet, many poems address an unseen captain, "capt'n this morning six were found hanging/ in a room made completely of air." The poems are many-layered: themes of air, water, earth, and fire appear throughout the collection, as do specific lines. Flynn offers intriguing narratives, too: one tells of a latchkey boy who either sets his house or a young girl on fire after school one day. Or perhaps both: "the boy stood in the hot-hot room/ stammering I did stammering, I did stammering… /everything you say I did/ I did." In the series about Abu Ghraib, the writing becomes disconnected and occasionally difficult to follow: "My eyesight is years/ See up yes did this." But voice remains paramount and compelling as in this love poem: "let's hold each other/ ceaselessly/ your bed a box cut out of the sky." VERDICT A finely crafted collection that gives testimony to moral outrage and celebrates being human; not to be missed. [See Prepub Alert, 11/1/10.]—Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555975746
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

NICK FLYNN is the author of two memoirs, The Ticking Is the Bomb and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. He is also the author of two previous poetry collections, Blind Huber and Some Ether. He teaches at the University of Houston and lives in New York.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted March 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Jesus Knew

    The poem Jesus Knew is my favorite. It breaks my heart (open) every time I read it. The thing is, the breaking is over something different with each reading. How does that happen? How does he manage that? The words on the page remain the same, obediently anchored to their assigned seats. And yet, not. Because every time I visit this poem the words somehow morph and shift, lift off the stage of ivory paper, quick-change their costumes and voices, dance and contort like some kind of Cirque du Soleil magic and athleticism is at work. Perhaps, in this particular poem, anyway, it might have something to do with the dynamic element brought by those jump-cut spacings. But, in truth, much of Nick Flynn's writing - poetry and prose - is gifted with similar alchemy. Jesus Knew is just, for me, the brightest, most stunning example of Flynn's sleight-of-hand skill with words, the images his words create, and the multitude of meanings they come together to form, layering, rearranging, reframing. When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have summer passes to Astroworld, Houston's local version of Disney Land or Six Flags. Nick Flynn's writing reminds me of that favorite childhood amusement park in many ways. Imagine that each time you show up and get your ticket punched, have the back of your hand anointed with that black-light-reflective stamp, you discover a new ride has been added. What's more, you return to the roller coaster you love best - but instead of always finding the same exact ride, you're treated to an experience that varies, markedly, each time. A new, hair-raising dive or a curve careening in a new direction from previous journeys, so that when you lean right in ritual anticipation it suddenly Alice in Wonderland-twists you up and left, instead. The hands ask for a captain show, and Nick Flynn delivers performance after performance. Each one authentic; each one a jack in the box; every one worth the price of admission a thousand times over; every one deserving of a standing ovation.

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