In this debut collection, Jesse Nathan matches an exquisite feeling for the music of lines and sentences with his profound explorations of the idea of home. The book's title comes from the word for a bit of cartilage on a baby bird's beak, a growth that helps it break out of the egg. Shortly after the bird hatches, the tooth disappears. Like an eggtooth, Nathan's poems are often figures for birth, for the violence of birth and, in his case, rebirth. They follow an unusual and passionate boy from his childhood on a wheat farm in the watershed of the Running Turkey Creek in rural southcentral Kansas — "the land was always the solace" — to his life years later in a coastal city.
Ecology, family, history, sexuality, and poetry itself are his subjects, but in all these matters, Nathan's rich formal imagination travels our fundamental feelings of alienation and belonging. In a style somehow both lavish and plainspoken, in free verse and inherited forms, Eggtooth takes us from straw-bale fortresses in the hayloft, from fishing in streams and days so hot the "blank road shimmers" as the heat drives you out of your "straw-frail" mind, to the respite and loneliness of a far-off city plaza, to the "waves in their folding" at the edge where an ocean comes "boiling" onto sand. With verbal precision and abiding sympathy, Nathan's poems announce a capacious and deeply compelling new voice in American letters.
Jesse Nathan was raised in northern California and rural Kansas. He teaches literature at UC Berkeley, and he was a founding editor of the McSweeney's Poetry Series. His poems have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and The New Republic. This is his first book.
"Jesse Nathan's Eggtooth is an ambitious, brilliant rethinking of what making a poem is. Again and again the author makes us feel that we have been present at the creation." - Frank Bidart
"Here is the Gerard Manley Hopkins of the 21st-century ..." - Major Jackson
"One of the newborn wonders of the world ..." - Katie Ford
"Here poetry is a pleasure, a thrill, an homage." - Fady Joudah
"I love the poems in Eggtooth ... I love the way they make me see anew." - Linda Gregerson
"I can't think of another writer who so clearly sees the land for what it is: the actual organ from which we emerge and whose fate is directly linked to our own ..." - Marie Mutsuki Mockett
"Nathan's debut collection of poems celebrates farm life. This book of poems follows a boy's upbringing that is deeply rooted in the rhythms and ecology of an agrarian existence in rural Kansas. The title object is the sharp structure at the tip of a baby bird's beak that helps it to hatch. So, too, does Nathan emerge from a childhood on his family's farm to embark on his journey toward adulthood. Nathan is a masterful poet—his language is vivid and alive. Each poem paints a striking portrait of rural America. An outstanding book of pastoral poetry from an impressive new voice." - Kirkus Reviews