"In Previously Owned, America’s dark history is not quaintly rooted in the past, but dangerously ever-present. 'And what / have you learned from / standing here so long / examining pain?' Nathan McClain questions in the opening poem 'Boy Pulling a Thorn from His Foot'—not just the reader—himself as witness. If Scale, his first collection, can be said to be anchored in domestic space, then Previously Owned expands the architecture of that domestic space to include Country and the country. The ways in which McClain troubles the pastoral and peripatetic traditions thrills me: 'I’ve never actually seen a moose, / only signs warning of moose, / and NO PASSING ZONE signs' (“Where the View Was Clearer”); and of the fireflies in 'Now that I live in this part of the country,' 'look, they / flash the way hazard / lights sometimes flash… / and I might have said, no, / don’t they seem to pulse / with the glow of old / grievances?' This book is a triumph and will be talked about for years. Nathan McClain is one of the most daring poets I know."
—Tommye Blount, author of Fantasia for the Man in Blue
"The opening poem of Nathan McClain’s Previously Owned operates like the legend of a map, a key to the book’s existential topography. The poem’s presenting subject is a Roman sculpture of a boy pulling a thorn from his foot, or 'not pulling / rather, about to pull.' McClain addresses the self via the second person, and draws in the reader, too, as observer: 'and here you / are, looking,' witness to the boy’s 'insistent grief.' 'And what // have you learned from / standing here so long examining pain?' Previously Owned exists in this incremental space—the about to pull, the almost, the grief, the tenderness, the examination, and the distance. It’s a masterstroke in a masterful collection, in which a speaker of a nuanced intelligence and lush interiority reflects upon the American landscape, its pastoral and judicial and historical duplicity entwined with racial alienation and violence. McClain has written a collection of sculptural artfulness—through which the thorn of grief thrums still."
Diane Seuss, author of frank: sonnets
"The word 'fire' misheard as “father;” a ukulele becoming more a challenge than an instrument; the very light, a thief that slips through a window: over and over, in these poems, Nathan McClain pressures the world and reconfigures it. His poetry, despite being anchored in family, in family life and its hardships, is no tired retelling of autobiography. McClain does the difficult work of transforming his stories, of turning his stories into our own. Scale is an incredible debut."
—C. Dale Young, author of The Halo
"Just when I’d despaired of reading a poet who writes one line at a time, one poem at a time, assiduous to steer clear of the Big Project or the High Concept, Nathan McClain’s Scale shows up! He doesn’t take easy political stances, or preach or preen on the moral high ground, or show off his sensibility. Instead, he writes poems of real feeling and quiet integrity that are verified by their passionate understanding of how form, emotion, and music entail each other in the best and most lasting art. McClain’s kind of talent is rare in any generation."
—Tom Sleigh, author of Army Cats and Station Zed
"Nathan McClain’s Scale, is a wrenching account of fathers, where father is fire, is Agni, is life-giver and destroyer, where sons are left to manage in the wake of conflagration. Sons who will smolder and grow to absently consume what gets too close. McClain doesn’t claim a phoenix’s rise from the ash, or any other instead expected ascendant gesture, instead Scale allows for the far rarer necessary explorations of male vulnerability, fragility, fear and cycles of upending sorrow. Because the scales aren’t balanced in a father’s absence. Because, as McClain notes, 'who hasn't done that—loved so intently even after everything has gone? Loved something that has washed its hands of you?' Scale will not allow its reader to turn away, or deny its harder truth. Scale is a daring, unrelenting interrogation of loss, silence, and longing in the plaintive cry of a son among so many other sons."
—Vievee Francis, author of Forest Primeval