Nathan Graziano, Born on Good Friday, Roadside Press, available at www.magicaljeep.com 2023, 80 pages, $15
I was reading the recent anthology from Nerve Cowboy: Selected Works 1996-2004 ( a best of the early years of long running print poetry zine) that featured four poems of Graziano’s from that era, reminding me how long I had been reading work by this poet. Besides feeling old, the realization, re-enforced by the tone of his new collection, is that Graziano is now middle aged, settled and maybe not “still crazy after all these years” but still alive (as the peasant says in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet.”) Which probably says a lot about me as well as an officially, much older than Graziano, well settled poet.
The Nerve Cowboy poems are signature Graziano poems that were the hallmark of his early work: lots of lost nights and down days after, the kind of Carveresque dissipation and hooking up that made his novel, not long out of print ( yes, I still have my copy) Frostbite, memorable. Some of the poems in Born on Good Friday reflect a looking back ruefully and wondering, “Why the hell did I do these things to myself. And how did I survive.” Been there and done that. Throughout his many collections of writing, Graziano has maintained a tone of engaged in this life style but not taking myself all that seriously. He always seems to successfully strive for, and find, the humor in the most outrageous and ridiculous things that he does. The key point is he knows they are ridiculous while so many adult children don’t.
Born on Good Friday is roughly chronological beginning with his upbringing in a traditional American Catholic family proceeding to a rejection of his upbringing and later antics of a young and not so young, adult. Like many of us who lived through an engagement with Sister Harridan of the Tricornered ruler with the wrath of God on her side, much of the education and indoctrination didn’t take root except to reject the tenets brought up in the faith. I guess I was reminded of the old cliché last told to me by a very Irish Colleen, “You can take the catholic out the church but you can’t take the church out of the catholic.” Proving her point, The same young lady was married in a church and she hoped, maybe even prayed fervently, that we would all survive the service without being struck by lightning from above given her wanton ways as a young adult. We did.
Graziano seems to prove his point that mellowing does not necessarily mean giving up or sinking into a near comatose middle age in front of a TV with packs of Marlboro Lights and cans of Budweiser mindlessly watching what passes for a sporting event on 24/7 sports TV. Not that he doesn’t like sports, he is a fervent Red Sox fan, but there are other things in life. Other things like loving his wife and children, writing clean well narrative poems, some recalling his crazy days and lonesome nights, and more contemporary ones; still rueful after all these years.
—Alan Catlin, author of Bar Guide for the Seriously Deranged