About this poet

On January 26, 1960, Nick Flynn was born in Scituate, Massachusetts, on Boston’s South Shore. He worked as a ship's captain and at a homeless shelter in Boston before being awarded a fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. After the two-year fellowship he moved to New York City, where he earned his MFA from New York University and taught in Columbia University’s Writing Project.

He is the author of the poetry collections The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands (Graywolf Press, 2011), Blind Huber (Graywolf Press, 2002), and Some Ether (Graywolf Press, 2000), which was the recipient of the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award.

Flynn’s work has been described as post-confessional, primarily because of the poems in Some Ether, which focused on his mother’s suicide when he was twenty-two, his difficult childhood, and his stilted family life. In Blind Huber, however, the poems eschew Flynn’s history and focus on the life of the blind beekeeper, Francoise Huber, who lived in the 18th Century.

While the subject matter may differ dramatically, in all of Nick Flynn’s work there is the struggle for connectivity in a disjointed and harsh reality. As Claudia Rankine noted about Some Ether, "We are guided by a stunning and solitary voice into lives that have spiritually and physically imploded. No one survives and still there is so much to be felt. Here is sorrow and madness reconciled to humanity."

Nick Flynn is also the author of the memoirs The Reenactments (Graywolf Press, 2013), The Ticking Is the Bomb (W. W. Norton, 2010), and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004), which received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, has been widely translated, and was adapted into the film Being Flynn. He was awarded the “Discovery”/The Nation Prize and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Amy Lowell Trust. He teaches part-time at the University of Houston and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

forgetting something

Nick Flynn, 1960

Try this—close / your eyes. No, wait, when—if—we see each other / again the first thing we should do is close our eyes—no, / first we should tie our hands to something / solid—bedpost, doorknob— otherwise they (wild birds) / might startle us / awake. Are we forgetting something? What about that / warehouse, the one beside the airport, that room / of black boxes, a man in each box? I hear / if you bring this one into the light he will not stop / crying, if you show this one a photo of his son / his eyes go dead. Turn up / the heat, turn up the song. First thing we should do / if we see each other again is to make / a cage of our bodies—inside we can place / whatever still shines.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Nick Flynn. Reprinted from The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands with the permission of Graywolf Press.

Copyright © 2011 by Nick Flynn. Reprinted from The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands with the permission of Graywolf Press.

Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn was born in 1960 in Scituate, Massachusetts. He is the author of the poetry collections The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands (Graywolf Press, 2011), Blind Huber (Graywolf Press, 2002), and Some Ether (Graywolf Press, 2000).

by this poet

poem
When you see us swarm — rustle of

wingbeat, collapsed air — your mind
tries to make us one, a common

intelligence, a single spirit un-
tethered. You imagine us merely
searching out the next

vessel, anything

that could contain us, as if the hive
were just another jar. You try

to hold the ending, this
poem

If this bowl is always empty

If it breathes if it’s lung

If a horse can rise from the ashes


Saul was a sailor on the boat to Damascus

He did not know what he was

Paul turned to a voice it rose up from the waves

It chained his boat to the

poem
Years later I’m standing before a roomful of young writers in a high school in Texas. I’ve asked them to locate an image in a poem we’d just read—their heads at this moment are bowed to the page. After some back & forth about the