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Book Review: 'How To Dance As The Roof Caves In'


Making poetry out of something as messy as the recent housing crisis may sound like a tall order, but Nick Lantz has done it. The collection is called "How to Dance as the Roof Caves In." Our reviewer, Tess Taylor says calls it biting but tender.

TESS TAYLOR: Nick Lantz's third book is full of figures of temporary home: hotels, hospitals, foreclosed on neighborhoods. It is also filled with homelessness, transience and a roving media-filled landscape in which it's hard to rest, platforms move, people move on. And at the heart of this biting but tender book is a dark picture or our recent housing crisis itself.

In the book's central sequence, Lantz writes in the voice of an evicted couple who work as actors in an abandoned housing development. The couple doesn't live there, but instead, they pose as residents to lure other investors. Along with a group of out of work actors, they are paid by the hour to play neighbor.

Here our American landscape is depicted darkly. Lantz writes: From the highway you can see half-built housing developments, the homes abandoned in various states of undress, all huddled around the cloudy mirror of a manmade lake. Coming soon, says the sign: Hidden Valley, Foxfire Valley, Valley of Sorrows. This is an eerie land of wild geese, stage-set supervisors, and rows of disinhabited structures.

In this dystopia, Lantz has a knack for turning the battered material of daily life into something off-kilter, newly felt. Lantz's poem "Re: 5 Ways to Enhance Your Love More Passionate," cuts up loan shark and pharmaceutical ad messages into a wry, sad testament of our desire to be loved, to be home. Other poems pose as how-to manuals: how to help a ghost, how to appreciate inorganic matter.

In these strange guises, once familiar language becomes odd. Dislocation freshens it. Even the rote hotel phrase: How many nights will you be staying with us, grows vaguely metaphysical.

Indeed, how many nights are any of us staying? Why are we here now? Lantz shows us moving through a world that spins out of our control. But amid the remnants these poems are testaments to what remains of our hope. I'm telling lies about you, because all I'm left with is this sentence that I love, writes Lantz. In this language, and just beyond it, poems are made whole not by what's present but by desire, the urgent human wish to belong.

SIEGEL: Tess Taylor reviewed "How to Dance as the Roof Caves In" by Nick Lantz. Tess teaches English at Whittier College. Her recent book is "The Forage House."



This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tess Taylor