Nervous Device

Nervous Device
City Lights Spotlight No. 8

Press Reviews

Eleven Eleven

"Using complex systems of collage, deconstructing the blurred lines between audience, poet, and poem, and pointing a sexual/political microphone to the face of our collective desires and fears, Wagner presents an invasive, self-conscious body of work." --Nora Toomey, Eleven Eleven


"Taking with one hand what they give with the other, Wagner's poems are full of vehemence and disdain and tenderness and somewhere, in some inexpugnable part of the body of language through which so many discomforting feelings pass, a thorny kind of joy. This is my idea of great poetry: in which 'The actual is / flickering a binary / between word and not-word.'"—Barry Schwabsky

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

"Playful, spunky and revealing, Catherine Wagner blends her persona with her method of writing. The tone ranges from breezy to breathy and from pastoral to ironic. Externalities (such as oil spills) are internalized and that interface is lit up by the writer's restless navigation."—Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

Lemon Hound

"But in Nervous Device, Wagner has transcended the simply wrong to reach a kind of sublime wrong, so every wince is accompanied by a shiver of pleasure." 

SF Weekly: Read Local

"Wagner's poems contain multitudes, at once overflowing with seductive lyricism only to suddenly shift into brash fragmentation. She is informed, but the word subjective has no place whatsoever in her work. As the cover suggests, the potential for human connection is downright erotic for Wagner."

—Alexis Coe

Joshua Ware's blog

"The notion that the audience is 'putting [their] finger in [her] vagina' while reading Nervous Device signals one of Wagner's primary thematic concerns in the collection: the complex relationship between poetry, sex, desire, and the body."

- Joshua Ware

Publishers Weekly

"Wagner's fourth collection contains poems of memory and dark artifice. She writes with an obscure, magnetic lens. Wagner’s longer poems are willfully disorienting: "A Well Is a Mine: A Good Belongs to Me" consists almost entirely of lines encased in quotation marks that confront slavery and invent equations: “Freedom × Need = Reality.” Wagner contrasts these complicated poems with short, clean, pieces that offer a kind of breathing space for the reader. Not to be mistaken for trivial, the linguistic tightness of these poems are highlights of Wagner’s collection. “Ta” describes a drowning television: “o’er and o’er/ let it stink way down/ and coral grew there./ Covered it oar./ Let miserere deep./ Be mine for’air.” The poems delve into and self-consciously warp body, sex, and language. “Unclang” explores writing poetry: “it takes experience to write a real poem that is well-lit,” Wagner argues. Later in the same poem we are blindsided by the haunting statement that “writing a poem is like reaching two prosthetic limbs out as far as you can on either side to grab something in front of you. You can’t grab it but maybe you’ll take flight.” (Oct.)"

—Publishers Weekly

Huffington Post

"Wagner is to be lauded, first and foremost, for her daring, her conceptual eclecticism, and her linguistic range... Nervous Device is a clear-eyed and brave testament to the changing currents of a poet's life."

—Seth Abramson

HTML Giant

"… the manner in which Wagner structures the language through repetitive dialogue both builds meaning and breaks it apart… Wagner balances disjunction and lucidity, private and public, distant and (riskily) up-close."

—Jessica Comola

Electric Review

"In the 8th installment of the new City Lights Poetry Spotlight, we are introduced to the vibrant voice of Catherine Wagner. Nervous Device, inspired by William Blake, is a compelling collection of poems that twists the abstract echoes of language into the full-body of a deep and hopeful vision. Here, Wagner looks to propel the poem across the audience, drawing it from the confines of the printed page into the clearness of space where its multitude of perspectives can be sampled by the masses. Ultimately, Wagner's poetry is about performance and sound and the way that things move. Jumping through scenes like a new-born fawn, she blends her airy-cool ethereal style with this sharp set of eyes – a wholly original poet roaming a tired and broken countryside."

—John Aiello