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Headliner Spotlight: Nathan McClain

A professor at Hampshire College and current poetry editor for the Massachusetts Review, Nathan McClain is well-established figure in the New England poetry scene and nationally. He’s published two collections with Four Way Books, Scale (2017) and Previously Owned (2022).

Jump to 2:27 in the video above to hear McClain read “Fire Destroys Beloved Chicago Bakery”, a beautifully compressed reflection on the mind's associative capacities and the enduring effects of trauma. Inspired by a newspaper headline (from which it borrows its title), the poem is structured around the speaker’s unconscious reading of the word “fire” as “father”. The fire’s destructiveness—not identified with any particular cause in the headline—is compulsively fused, in the speaker's mind, with troubling memories of their father. We have only two images of the father—first, menacingly wielding a Louisville Slugger baseball bat in a fantasy that feels all too reality-based, then, in memory, discouraging his kids from wanting food at the grocery store—but they're all we need.

“The real question is/ not why your father would do such a thing,/ but why you smell him in every ruin,” McClain says. Importantly, I think, this question is identified rather than asked, much less answered. A mundane answer to this question isn’t hard to cook up with some sociological or psychotherapeutic jargon, but that’s not the point. The question is a fearsome sort of object all its own, impenetrable. Poetry feels like the ideal medium for such a complex and compressed revelation. 

Nathan McClain will read on Friday, April 12, at the 7 PM reading in the Dimond Library's Courtyard Reading Room. Check our Schedule page for more info about the Festival's offerings, and the Featured Poets page for a full bio.

You can also hear Jason Schneiderman read “Fire Destroys Beloved Chicago Bakery” on an episode of the wonderful podcast The Slowdown.


—Matthew Mallory Dinaro