June 2012

Rebecca Silber


Panic Attack, USA by Nate Slawson

The poems in Nate Slawson's debut full-length book of poetry, Panic Attack, U.S.A., are scantily clad. The reader is a voyeur walking by a window left open on a sultry Midwestern summer night. Slawson uses strong imagery to convey emotions so raw, so vulnerable, and so relatable to anyone who has ever felt alive at the prospect of love's most shimmering burst of euphoria.

Panic Attack, U.S.A. is neatly divided up into four sections. The book can be read through, as I did, but each poem is also capable of standing alone. The first section, "Teenage Sonnets," contains energy-driven poems; poems that read so quickly that it is difficult to hang onto every word. Skipping too quickly over a word, however, would mean passing over one of Slawson's many wonderfully lustful, jarring pinings, pinings such as the last line in "You are a Brief Meditation on a Short Story," "... I butterfly stroke for you in the worst way."

The reader quickly becomes acquainted with Slawson's metaphors, which aren't so much metaphors as they are exquisite word replacements. To call them metaphors would be undermining these literary speed bumps. He swaps out what could be commonplace words, for far stronger, unexpected surprises that better ground the poems to a distinct personality. An example of this can be found in last few lines of "You are Amplifier," "...then cradle me baby rabbit-like all Jackie O how goddamn sweet is that how killer would that be?" The juxtaposition of the soft, innocence of a tiny rabbit paired with Jackie O and her fashionable, prim taste is original and somewhat off-the-wall. This image adds a colorful dynamism that could not have been replicated with a more standard metaphor.

In the second section of the book, "Panic Attack, U.S.A," actual Mid-American geographic references, including specific cities, highways, and bodies of water, provide a settling place for the heaviness of the lust and longing and give readers a context, a resting point of familiarity. In some poetry, such explicit examples can threaten to expire the writing or exclude readers. This is not the case with Slawson's work, as in "We are a Map of the Midwest":

You are Ohio
& I am Michigan
& I am on top
of you & it is
so fucking hot.
I wake up naked
in the July sun
wishing I was
Kentucky &
your ankles
were a river
wrapped around
my throat...

The third section of the book, "Essays for a Broken Heart," is a series of poems on heartache and unrequited love. Angst-ridden lines in this section include the following from a few different poems, "...I don't understand the loneliness I have for you..." "...love is worse than fascism..." and "...there's nothing worse that not being able to get with you in the last subway car or in real life..." These strong emotions, albeit heartbreaking, are pulsing with life. Rejection be damned, reading lines such as these makes me want to go out and chase after love, simply to achieve the fervency that comes along with its pursuit.

Throughout the book, Slawson expresses hope for a safe place and often alludes to curling up, cradling, and wearing a life preserver. The poems in the fourth section, "Very Very Agoraphobic," are somewhat less frantic than those in the first three-quarters of the book, perhaps because they are about love achieved. The speaker in these poems has found relative comfort in this final section, but the poems still read with a tinge of vulnerablity, as demonstrated in the last lines of "If I Could Fuck a Landscape," the final poem in the book: "...I want to be a holiday, but I'm running out of happy. Let's be happy water park employees. You can call me sentimental. I will call you purpose."

Panic Attack, U.S.A. presents a familiar maze to anyone who has ever been alone and aching for love. Slawson has taken the familiar, sad love poem and given it a bold, fast-paced, and unique bend. This is a book to read and then keep nearby for reference, in those times of languish or merely nostalgia for past perils of love.

Panic Attack, USA by Nate Slawson
YesYes Books
ISBN 978-1936919079
128 pages