"Welcome heroes/To come box in a home." You can tell a Doug Nufer reading by the kind of laughter it inspires. Nufer won't ask his audience for those wan chuckles chuckled by initiates in the presence of a flattering joke. That's too easy for the author of Poem Noir, an increasingly elaborate series of poems that bends a sparse, hardboiled lexicon until it turns white-hot and creaks with genius. Nufer's audiences laugh from pure surprise, and Nufer's books remain surprising after multiple reads.
"Clouds black while the rain waited for leaves"—it's a nicely rounded phrase, but any number of talented poets could have come up with it. Doug Nufer is not a talented poet; Doug Nufer drives a bulldozer and salvages the great poetry from alternate universes. He can write about the rain waiting for leaves, but his new book also mentions "a dog Pulitzer Prize waiting for the funeral hamburger," not to mention a "road curved enough to make a bulldog a part-time model." Shapes emerge from Nufer's fog of association and repetition.
"Can cant cantatas cap cape capering?"—We Were Werewolves distills found text and other linguistic latencies into some of the most formally preposterous poetry you'll ever have the pleasure of reading (or, preferably, hearing). Whether in a full-length backward derangement of Eliot's "The Waste Land" or an alphabetized sonnet entitled "As Ass Bur Burn Can Cane," each cockeyed phrase has a perfectly logical place and purpose. Nufer writes with a sincerity and commitment that brings the rest of this messy world into question. The dual nature of We Were Werewolves stimulates the brain while rendering "a dolt's joy fully effected."
Doug Nufer reads with Janet Sarbanes as part of the Subtext Reading Series on Wed June 4, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 7:30 pm, donations accepted.