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Robert Nazarene’s Collection, Empire de la Mort

August 28th, 2020

Empire de la Mort by Robert Nazarene

reviewed by David Garyan

Robert Nazarene’s latest poetry collection, Empire de la Mort, released last year, is worth reading precisely when social media outrage is at an all-time high; it arrives at the hour when it’s dangerous to be the only person in the room holding the opposite opinion, even if everyone present is wrong. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the outrage is certainly upon us, but Robert Nazarene is no ordinary gentleman—his brand of politeness doesn’t allow him to shy away from saying what needs to be said, especially when he’s the only one in the (chat)room who has the courage to do so. No, neither Nazarene nor his book are scared of Facebook; these poems are infectious, but Nazarene isn’t afraid that his truth might cause viral outrage, and there is a lot of truth in these pages.

The cover features an adorable little girl covered in dirt standing under a ruined building surrounded by stuff you might not even discover at a junkyard—this sets up the narrative for the entire collection perfectly: You won’t find any nature poems which are about nothing here; you will not even see a single flower in works like “My Funny Valentine,” nor will you see one among all the difficult emotions Nazarene’s characters try to bury, but can’t.

If you are afraid of bumpy, uneven roads from this point on, you better turn around and drive back to your MFA workshop where you can continue learning a steady iambic pentameter the rest of the way; however, if you’re ready for something new, hook a sharp left and take your cruise off mind control. No, this is poetry from the streets that haven’t been paved in a while: “Now— / shake me / furiously, / like / the baby / nobody / wanted.” Nevertheless, not everything is about grime and games here, despite what the cover might imply; you could also end up somewhere nice and clean from time to time—like a doctor’s office: “the oncologist’s suit: unmistakably bespoke, Oxxford or Kiton. / His office, sumptuous. Sterile and cold—but in a sumptuous way.” Did you catch that, reader? This poet isn’t afraid to show you the grime of all society, whether it be literal or metaphorical.

The collection is skillfully divided into four parts: “Much,” “Ado,” “About,” and “nothing,” intentionally spelt lowercase, not because it’s inferior—it isn’t—but because the reader will find absolutely everything in this collection, except Shakespearean deception, masks, and mistaken identities. Get on “The Midway,” and for just twenty five cents:

and there’s plenty more that readers will find if they decide to go further on the journey with Nazarene. On the way, don’t forget to stop for some excellent MFA-style (not) advice: “If You’re Planning on Being Published In The New Yorker.” If this is the only goal you have as a writer—to be published in The New Yorker, that is—go straight to page twenty nine, read the poem, take Nazarene’s advice, write your poem using it, send it to The New Yorker, and when it’s accepted, don’t forget to thank him personally for the wisdom that he offers:

Be aware that the good editors’ covers over at The New Yorker are now effectively blown and they might be changing its editorial brand of vanilla ice cream as a result; they have always preferred Healthy Choice vanilla to Good Humor vanilla anyways. Please be advised that Nazarene isn’t a licensed MFA poet and his advice isn’t meant to treat, cure, or diagnose any bland poetic disorders that are commonly found in the MFA industrial complex.

My personal favorite piece in Nazarene’s collection, “Joie de Vivre,” I’ll quote in full, and I expect this generous offering to have the following effect on you, the reader: Go out and get your hands on Empire de la Mort. In fact, you don’t even have to go out in order to get it, and because you don’t have to expend energy and venture outside to procure this wonderful book, it’s (perhaps) nonetheless available to you with free shipping at But then again maybe not—Nazarene cares nothing about the perks which come with being a superstar career MFA poet—you know, the groupies, unlimited cups of coffee at the AWP, and free pens for life so generously provided by your neighborhood English Department; for these reasons, the book is either not available or sold out, or not available because it’s sold out. Who really knows? Enough of this insanity, however. It’s time for the poem:

It’s proper to finish this review with the poet’s own words written at the end of the collection: “Thank God for Everything.”


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