Narcissus Unfolding

By Jim Nason

Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos

Toronto poet Maureen Hynes told me about Jim Nason last year.  She spoke of him with kindness and reverence.  I remember her saying, “good poet,” after his name as she sipped coffee.  A few months later while hitting up the many bookstores that I do in Toronto I came across Narcissus Unfolding, Nason’s latest collection of poems. His name rested under the book’s title in small white letters.

“Nason?” I thought.

The cover caught my attention and the name rung a bell.

My fingers started to move from page to page and my eyes saw titles that interested me:


At The Vienna Café


Black Ice

Union Station

Montreal, Two In The Morning

Kind Snow

What I Didn’t Tell The Insurance Agent

Name after name had me wanting to read Nason’s work.  Why?  They were ordinary.  They told me that Nason wrote about the regular things in life, his life, a life that maybe I could relate to, or not, but a life that I would be able to see via the poems in his book.

There is simplicity to the names of each poem that ring true.  Who hasn’t felt like they’ve had insomnia?  If you’re in Toronto, or traveling by train in this part of the country, you’ve probably been to Union Station.  And who the fuck doesn’t lie to their insurance agent?

Weather Girl has one of the most beautiful starts to a poem I’ve read: “Always books”.  For a book lover/junkie like myself there’s no better start to a poem; Nason hooked me in, fast.  He takes you to different parts of a room that has a TV on with the weather girl predicting snow one day and rain the next day.  You see that his first line dictates the poem with books being all over the room:

The lamp on the table

circled by books—Dempsters “Long Illness”,

Rilke’s Orpheus, Ashbery’s “Worldly Country”


And the books—

You hadn’t realized how many,

piled and tilted on the floor

I felt like Nason had broken into my house when I wasn’t home.  Any reader, writer, book lover will feel the same.  Although the poem is so much more, Nason’s morning routine I believe, it’s the first line that set the tone and later saw me smile while reading about the piled, tilted, circling books taking over, and loved by their owner at the same time.   It’s Nason’s life, our life, a life of always books.

Nason’s short poem Loquacious says a lot about life: the use words and how they disappear; the routine of work; years passing by; class; how there is more to people than just what you see.

Through beautiful lines that play with language, “The concierge, body-language-reserved, but each smile a bouquet of adjectives and verbs”, Nason gives you a glimpse into the life of a hotel lobby attendant.  You see the rich get this man to hold their parcels and dog leashes as he stands firm to hold his job and dignity.  And you see his age not only by number, and description, but through Nason’s way of showing the man being tired of his job and those he serves:

Rather loquacious today, sir?” he says, when I stop

to chat with him in the lobby.  Fingerprints each time

on the door.  Always more to the story.

There’s always more to what you see.  And there are more stories in Nason’s book.  He takes you to a subway station where thoughts of suicide arise (Waiting at Chester Station); a John Ashbery reading at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (John Ashbery); the Atlantic Ocean (Atlantic Turtles); and different laneways, “souls of the city” writes Nason, in Toronto (Laneway Home).

Nason has you engaged via long poems, short poems, numbered poems, prose poems, dedications, memories, answers, and questions.  Maureen Hyens was right: Nason is a good poet.  Narcisuss Unfolding is another book I’m glad to have in my ever-growing collection of books, always books.

Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday January 25, 2011 for a inclusive interview with Jim Nason.


About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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