American Massif

by Nicholas Regiacorte


“As John Ashbery once avowed, and prophetically, ‘we are fabulous beasts after all.’  In American Massif, Nicholas Regiacorte takes the full measure of that prophecy by setting it into vivid motion across the American earth. Along the way, we are dearly reminded that the ordinary light of our common day is ravishing, that the familiar nets of our common language sparkle, as after a morning rain.
While there is pain here, and outrage, a fabulous delight persists. This is a heartening, brilliant collection.

Donald Revell

Format: Paperback
Published: May 2022

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“Nicholas Regiacorte’s American Massif is a stunning book with an extraordinary reach. Bearing lyrical witness to the grit particulars of embodiment and extinction, Regiacorte examines with a keen intimacy both the wild and the domestic, weaving a thread from the present moment back to bygone epochs. With a vivid style, American Massif features a highly original, urgent kind of concentration: ‘In the heart of my woods / I will open / for you alone a bright circle of / grasses whose / entrance will be guarded by a / seeping maple / and marked by the unearthed cheekbone of /a boulder…’ In these highly pressurized poems, Regiacorte manages to halt traffic at the intersection of time and nature, personal and animal, emergence and extinction. This is a fantastic book of poetry!”

—Christopher Salerno, author of The Man Grave

“At first it may seem too ‘on the nose’ to speak of our perilous shifting climate through the voice of a mastodon, ‘the elephant in the room’ as it were. But Regiacorte’s exquisite, lush lines swept my doubt away. For there is abundant humanity at the heart of this book. ‘In the heart of my woods I will open for you alone a bright circle of grasses…’ In all the ways that poetry can sway us with its art, this collection does deeply move me. ‘Spearing to the core.’ Thankfully an elephant never forgets.”

—D A Powell

“Brimming with insights and whimsy while often leaving us on the edge so subtly we don’t know how we got there, Nick Regiacorte’s American Massif is a book that simply cannot be pigeon-holed. This is work from a patient writer who has taken his time to bring us this collection of well-wrought, passionate observations of the natural world which includes human making and thought. We begin our reading with an unspoken nod to the President whose stone face resides on that most American of edifices, Mount Rushmore. Jefferson’s obsession with claiming the living ‘American Mastadon’ is never directly addressed, but reappears in this collection as if a plea or warning. Just as the ephemeral grasses sway in the wind, the mastodon sways on its forelegs toward extinction and revival through the unearthing of its bones both actions leading to profound exercises of the imagination. American Massif does not mean to be read as science, as facts. Instead here is a highly lyrical, unpredictable collection of poetry that takes surprising leaps of thought, swerving across a broad swath of landscapes, eras, philosophies, and topics, moving deftly from St. Sebastian to Van Gogh, Dayton, Ohio to Mr. Cogito, art to the garden. In some sense it reads as a natural history that covers species and soil, but it expands in to an ars urbana in its cosmopolitan insights, covering just enough to make the reading rich and engaging. In ‘Pompeiian,’ Regiacorte notes, ‘the secret is always that you are not/perishable.’ Which is one of the central concerns of this collection, What remains and what does that mean? This is a daring book of Whitmanesque measure, that explores personal and collective histories from vantages as varied as the mastodon and the father whose child is growing up faster than he can track. It will keep you rereading and discovering more each time. Regiacorte’s is that rarest of writers whose work refuses to privilege the separation of ‘I’ from ‘you’; this I is ‘we,’ all of us, every living creature, in all of our fears and curiosity, violence and vulnerability.”

—Vievee Francis

American Massif follows the first stages of one American Mastodon in his attempts to evolve. His life begins to resemble a human life. His mother appears human. His wife and children, human. His own birthplace and childhood. His appetites, sins, faith, cynicism, big plans. All apparently human. At the same time, all of these things are relinquished or increasingly subject to the story of his own extinction.

The massif’s landscapes are as varied as pinewoods, clay hills and prairie, but grow more abstract. In his naive way, A.M. moves through or ponders the Higgs Field, art, national and family states of emergency. From his own house to an airport, from volcano to museum, he goes foraging for images good enough to eat, for friends, for antidotes to apocalypse.

Perhaps no more human by the end, A.M. still bears his “girth and melancholy,” though having shed some of the illusions, like vestiges, with which he started. Dazed as much as sobered, he feels himself released into the world like a new habitat—however threatened. Rather, like the Pompeian who returns to her city, the Mastodon comes into his own. 

Nicholas Regiacorte was born and raised in southern Maine. Since that time, he’s lived in Florida, gone to college in Virginia, worked on roofing crews, worked in a deli, and earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.  He’s had the good fortune to live in Italy, once on a Fulbright year in Campania, the second time as a Visiting Professor in Florence. His poems have appeared in 14 Hills, Copper Nickel, New American Writing, Descant, Bennington Review, and elsewhere.  He currently teaches at Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois, where he lives with wife and two little boys.

Additional information

Weight 0.25 lbs
Dimensions 6 × 9 in

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