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Book Review - Exile in Monte Rio by Pat Nolan

Pat Nolan, who first saw the light of day in Montreal in 1943, is the perpetrator of three novels and over a dozen poetry books. He’s lived in Monte Rio, in “silent cunning exile,” he says in his new collection,Exile in Paradise, for over 40 years. His home is only a poetry book’s throw from the banks of the Russian River. There, the environment parallels that of Chinese landscape painting - “misty hills, coniferous forests, picturesque river vistas, wildlife, and relative isolation.”

Nolan’s writing, including translations, has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Europe and Asia, and many North American publications, notably Rolling Stone, The Paris Review, Poetry Flash, Thus Spake the Corpse, and Saints of Hysteria. He began Nuallain Press in 2011, and is the founder ofThe Black Bart Poetry Society and co-editor and publisher of its newsletter, Life Of Crime.

By his own admission, Nolan has also worked as a bartender, rock band manager, trail crew grunt, radio DJ, emergency dispatcher, janitor, and to the amazement of some, preschool teacher.

Many these days want to live in the moment – no looking back, no looking ahead. This new work is alive with details that coax our attention, urge our sensitivity to the present. Little happens while everything happens – the world unfurls, with only our eyes to devour it. We can be at peace or choose not to be. Poems arise from the mists of west county and congeal on these pages. There are no people, though shadow figures exist on the edges of his reality. Only nature and the moment exist.

Nolan has read Chinese poetry extensively. He describes it by using terms such as “immediacy, plain spoken imagism, spare, understated, open-ended.” His gradual awakening to Chinese poetry became “the slow steady light of dawn erasing little by little the shadows until it is bright noon overhead.”

For “Exile in Paradise,” he used a list of his favorite lines which became “the launch pad for poetic improvisation.” Each of these poems starts with a line in quotes, taken from those ancient masters.

Of the themes in Chinese poetry he favors, says Nolan, are “those of the footloose exiled poet, and the Taoist recluse/Buddhist hermit.”

Nolan goes on - . “The poems in exile in paradise are ephemeral, literary ghost masks, in substantial whispering clouds, echoes of an echo. Chinese poetry is image rich and largely dependent for its overall effect on the juxtaposition of these images in a discontinuous thread that is not unlike the successive frames of a film.”

The sensual cover art is Nolan’s design, from a landscape sketch by an obscure artist of the 15th Century. The calligraphy is from his collection of late 19th century woodblock reproductions of ancient Chinese painter signatures and seals.

Author Maureen Owen says of this work, “Nolan has given Solitude, itself, a voice in this rich lyric of nature…his lines race the air.”

Available at Sebastopol’s Many Rivers Books & Tea or

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