Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC would like to reintroduce to you to Bill Nevins.
Bill Nevin’s collection, Heartbreak Ridge and Other Poems, was published by Swimming with Elephants Publications in August of 2014.
“Heartbreak Ridge is a campfire of the resistance, a place where all kinds of poems—from jeremiads, scourgings, and passionate rants to absolutely beautiful works of love and loss—gather between its covers. Bill Nevins is a truth-teller,and what he has to tell us about the last half century of American life and politics is a matter of highly charged poetic urgency.”
Terence Winch, author of Boy Drinkers,
“When New York Was Irish” and many other works of poetry, music and fiction.
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Bill Nevins grew up Irish Catholic near and in New York City in the 1950’s and 60’s. He moved to northern New England and raised his three children, one of whom, Special Forces SFC Liam Nevins, died in combat in Afghanistan in 2013. Bill has lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1996.
His poetry has been published in Malpaís Review, Green Left Weekly, The Rag, Central Avenue, Sage Trail, Adobe Walls, Más Tequila Review, Special Forces Charitable Trust online, Maple Leaf Rag II, The Cornelian, KUMISS, and other publications. His journalism is found in The Guardian, Forward Motion, Z Magazine, RootsWorld, Hyper Active, Trend of Santa Fe, EcoSource, LOGOS, Thirsty Ear, ABQ ARTS, Local iQ, TM Transmission, The Celtic Connection, Irish American News, An Scathan/Celtic Mirror and other journals.
Bill continues to perform at Voices of the Barrio, Fixed and Free, Jules Poetry Playhouse, Sunday Chatter and other Albuquerque poetry gatherings. He has recently performed at SOMOS in Taos, NM and The Maple Leaf Readings in New Orleans.
Bill has retired from teaching and divides his time between homes in the towns of Albuquerque and Black Lake, New Mexico, and traveling.
People of the Sun / Gente del Sol
The People of the Sun is an emerging performance group made up of some very talented people credited with Albuquerque Fame.
The group, a threesome at its core, consists of Jessica Helen Lopez, former ABQ Poet Laurette, a nationally recognized published author with West End Press and Swimming with Elephants Publications, Manuel Gonzalez, current ABQ Poet Laurette and youth advocate, also published by Swimming with Elephants Publications, and Glenn “Buddha” Benavidez, of Reviva and Stoic Frame fame who also performs solo as DJ Buddhafunk. With a core group of that quality, this newly formed performance group holds high promise as a potential powerhouse.
On December 17th, the People of the Sun played their third show at the Draft Station in Albuquerque New Mexico. The venue offered a comfortable environment, good beer, and friendly enthusiastic patrons.
Opening with a meditative Chakra jam session and closing with a similar jam, the sandwich material was engaging, entertaining, varied, and compelling. Well received spoken word performances by Lopez and Gonzalez mixed with the professional beats of Benavidez created a show that is unique and inimitable.
Because the group strives to represent community, other local poets were invited to perform with the group throughout the evening. Local poets, including Gina Marselle, Katrina K Guarascio, and Bill Nevins, fellow Reviva menstrual, Jerel Garcia, and local artist John Barney, who had a table in the corner where he created magnificent artistic renderings of the performances (represented in this review) throughout the evening, all contributed to the eclectic festivities of the evening.
The show ran roughly three hours with a couple of breaks for conversation and collaboration creating an incredible comfortable and open environment.
Find People of the Sun – Performance Art Collective on Facebook for more information and keep your eye open for future shows featuring this group in and around Albuquerque.
The true nature of poetry is to first give us an insight into the heart and consciousness of the poet, then the collective consciousness of the society that influenced and nurtured that poet.
With his latest collection ‘Heartbreak Ridge (and other Poems)’ Bill Nevins fulfills both of these criteria. His influences stare back from the pages of this collection: the poet’s Catholic upbringing, his Irish roots, his immersion in the popular culture, his sense of justice, and the ideas of his time, inform all that appears between the covers of ‘Heartbreak Ridge(and other Poems)’.
Nevins also draws on the American civil rights and peace movements. When the writers, poets, musicians and artists of the “Times They Are A-Changin” generation opposed wars, domestic and foreign, Nevins was positioned at the vanguard of the excitement: he relished their enthusiasm, idealism and the promise of change.
He leads us gently into where the heart of the poet lies, and for Bill Nevins that heart speaks both from the ancient stones of an ancestral land, and a new cultural landscape, with different mores and values where the public voice of discourse impinges heavily on the consciousness of the individual. ‘Heartbreak Ridge (and other Poems)’ explores how all of these emotions interact, from the deeply personal to the public. Nevins shares with the reader an understanding of how this melting pot moulded him as both person and writer.
“…so that’s how they sang back in the bad old days, for Erin’s sake.”
While referencing the famous early verse of Patrick Carpenter, that gives us insight into the cruel days of famine and penal taxes, Nevins quickly moves to a very modern notion of Ireland: the homeland of his ancestors, populated by articulate people.
While still engaged in a fight and a deep longing for independence, the Irish manage to emancipate themselves through the most powerful of personal freedoms: that of free expression, expounded through singers and songs, through writers, poets, and other freedom fighters:
“Bobby Sands, the dying soldier-prisoner-poet….”
In the poem ‘New Skibbereen’ we see Nevins’ ancestral home Éire once again finding voice and healing through its spiritual and artistic heritage, as it had done through the late nineteenth, and early twentieth century writers and poets of the Gaelic Literary Revival.
To understand the soul of America, we need to read ‘Heartbreak Ridge (and other Poems)’ where the private citizen comes face to face with the noble ideals of a nation conscious of its role as the defender of freedoms: a role labored on the backs of Americans by the wider world, who lambast and laud it, all in the one breath.
To this ideal Bill Nevins and his family paid the ultimate personal sacrifice, losing their son Liam in combat in Afghanistan:
“Embracing, we kiss thy lips, thy wounds in peace, even in death, even in teeth of your death prayers upon us, we ash-cross your brow.” (Why Are We In Afghanistan?)
Echoing Rudyard Kipling’s call to a son lost in a different war, Bill Nevins and his family now yearn “When do you think he’ll come home?” yet the poet does not display any bitterness for this personal loss. Instead he very ably expresses his absolute dismay, utter confusion and anger about the way successive administrations have misrepresented the true feelings of the American people, at home and abroad, in times of crisis.
In poems like ‘Heartbreak Ridge’, ‘Why Are We In Afghanistan?’, ‘Dover Base’ and ‘Warrior Transition Units’ Bill Nevins repeatedly asks whether war and rage are giving America the answers and the healing that it needs.
It gradually becomes clear that Bill Nevins believes peace is attainable more through peaceful means rather than war, or other ‘security options’ that have been so favored by US administrations in recent times. In ‘Days of Death Letters,’ he throws a cynical glance to the military and its empty post-death rituals. Steeped in military glory and its trappings, these rituals of war and death represent little but the re-affirmation of American military power. They serve only to condemn families to a state of continuous grief:
“I have the folded flags and medals to remind me of that.”(Days of Death Letters)
In ‘Fateful Lightning: The Hoodie and The Republic’ Nevins remembers the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s death, which was to herald a number of similar deaths of African-Americans in racially-related incidents:
“Speak to holy rage in Jesus
To the emptied temple and the empty tomb
To the peace in Trayvon’s soul”
In this collection Bill Nevins points constantly to the ability of our artistic souls to express pain, anger and rage. This is what keeps us from revenge; this is what keeps us from violence; this is what keeps us functioning as human beings:
“…poets make everybody else
taste what they taste.” (No Prisoners).
The residual effects of a Catholic upbringing and religious power are strong and moving forces in Nevins’ writing. When best to take control than at the very first sacrament after baptism, the very first personal encounter between the Church through its priest, and the very impressionable young boy at first confession, who has come to be relieved of the burden of his sins:
“…staring at the cold stone Christ whipped by Romans
when Fenton in his stiff Jansenist cassock found me wanting in dogma
expelled me from first confession” (Transubstantiation)
‘Heartbreak Ridge (and other Poems)’ clearly shows us the sacrifice of American families to the universal values and ideals of a free and democratic world. It takes us on a journey through symbols and symbolism, of ideas and ideals, of the artistic, and the spiritual self, that creates a healing space, but most of all we are on a journey with the poet seeking a personal truth.
Bill Nevins opens for us the conscience of a nation deeply confused about its ideals, its history of a noble purpose, and the role foisted upon it by the world. Through Bill Nevins’ poetry and personal loss, we glimpse the real soul of America. There is the private and the public; both are intertwined in stories of love, peace, death, tragedy and the truly personal biography of a lost child to war.
He questions the idea of war and the whole culture and mythology built around it. As did Springsteen years ago with ‘Born in the USA’ Nevins lets us in on more of the truth about this almost mythical place that means different things to so many. Like Springsteen before him, Bill Nevins gives us a glimpse into the consciousness of the individual, and thereby, into the soul of a nation.
Through Bill Nevins’ poetry the reader pieces together a multi-layered depiction of citizen, and country. His historic, spiritual and cultural references reveal how from tough and harsh realities, the American Dream has sustained its people so well; giving birth to an idealism and a sense of purpose, that is unique to itself in the world.
At his best Nevins brings us face to face with our deepest selves, challenging each reader to look into their own value system: to note how society nurtures or impinges on those values and in turn on our lives and how we are allowed to live them. We are measured in the end by our response to how our society and big government corrupts our personal value system.
While ‘Heartbreak Ridge (and other Poems)’ deals with the loss of a beloved son to a war with uncertain objectives, Nevins never allows his great personal loss to dominate the collection. Rather, this great loss influences every question he asks about the value and the sacredness of life.
“The Spring will come,
joyful births will happen again,
the kids will dance
the gifting dance,
every bit as happily as ever young Jesus danced” (If We Make it Through December)
Reviewed by Seamus Ruttledge (May 2015)
Book Review by Bill Nevins
a collection of poetry and photography
poetry by Katrina K Guarascio
photography by Shawna Cory
Swimming With Elephants Publications, 2014
69 pages, paperback
This book cures mental fascism.
Katrina Guarascio, the beloved Ms. G of Rio Rancho Public Schools’ Cleveland High School was let go by that notorious school administration and she made local and now national headlines. The reason: Guarascio encouraged her students to write creatively and freely. After all, she was hired to teach Creative Writing. But the school district decided that when one of the students updated the Biblical tale of The Loaves and Fishes, that was just too much for their Common Core Standardized Testing curriculum to bear.
Gurascio split. What else could any self respecting teacher who cares for the free minds of her students do?
She refused to bow to the fascist demand that there are some thoughts which cannot be expressed even in writing class. There are some thoughts which cannot even be thought.
The thought, as expressed by her student, that Jesus might actually have tried to help the poor, seems to have been one of those thoughts banned by the troglodytes of the the Rio Rancho Public Schools Administration.
No, Guarascio preferred to breathe the free air of America and to leave the stifling, choking atmosphere of this Christian Taliban school administation. And she encouraged her students, her charges, to fly free too.
They have been flying free. They have flown on Facebook, on television, in print, and beyond, praising their teacher and castigating the mind-numbing thugs who pretend to be school administrators in the school district that Intel Corp built and bought.
Read this book. It is the free, sexy, mind-liberating voice of Katrina K Guarascio, perhaps New Mexico’s finest mind and sharpest poet. Turn to page 23 (“I am not one/to sit and wait/for tides to change”) and see what I mean.
Word Up. Don’t Shoot. Let Us, and Our Children Breathe.