“Book Review: Is There Not a Cause?”
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A healing collection of artistic reckoning
I can easily argue that Nathaniel Terrell’s debut collection is meant to selflessly serve its readers. That Terrell has written it to awaken us from our unconsciousness before it whisks us away eternally to a place of ignorance and complacency.
But this collection of poems, short stories, and songs communicates a powerful sense of relief within the author himself, too. This work is an ode to a vibrant creativity, a poet who gave into an innate desire to create and watched as his role in the world, and the world itself, came pouring out of it.
The audience is an afterthought, and that’s kind of the whole point. Terrell finally stopped thinking about how his work would be received and wrote for himself. And for this I am grateful, because Is There Not a Cause? is a penetrating account of personal triumph.
He frees himself of any chains by which he’s been bound. He fearlessly embraces the errors he’s committing(ed) and does everything in his power to confront them, understand them. One of my favorites in the collection, “Have Mercy,” illustrates this point in each of its lines, four in particular:
“Am I the author of chaos? / When is enough, enough? / Will I ever move with caution? / Will I ever give a fuck?”
There is a confessional quality to each piece in the collection. We follow Terrell’s process of working through his confusion and doubt until he reaches clarity. I was reminded of Joan Didion’s truthfulness. Like Didion, Terrell opens his world to us and reveals the truth of how he (mal)functions within it. His wrongdoings, his clouded ways of thought. Terrell is conscious of the need to search for the absolute truth in order to give us the clearest portrait possible of his world. Terrell has a way of making the personal universal.
The process Terrell has gone through to write this work is a healing one, or so it seems. For this reason, he inspires us to take a similar look at our own lives. By the end of the collection, I could feel his relief in getting out all that he had to say, for now. In one of his last poems, “Highway,” he pleads, “God give me the words and vision / to create art that accurately depicts / such a beautiful piece of my life.” I would say he has succeeded, and he wants us to, too.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Print Length: 106 pages
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