Author Note: Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney’s poem “Nostalgia Man Rises” appeared in The Puritan: Issue 46, Summer 2019. As part of our Author Notes series, he shares some of the background behind creating the poem.   

I am at the stage of my life now where each new poem feels like the product, and expression, of new embarrassments. In “Nostalgia Man Rises,” this embarrassment is, essentially, one of feeling myself distanced from the demographic net of popular culture, feeling (and being embarrassed by) the urge to fall back on defensive nostalgia when presented with codes of mass experience that feel alien or inchoate. This might be my first middle-aged poem. 

In a kind of wild flailing bid for immortality and perpetual youth, it turns mid-poem and becomes a kind of weary instructional for my son. I have a son, but if I didn’t I would have had to invent one for the poem, to save it from trailing off into the kind of whinging bitter teeth-sucking that afflicts so many men of my complexion when they first stumble upon the sight of corporate art not made for them. The poem needs the lure of a future in the same way I do.

“Nostalgia Man Rises” has two source phrases. It started with, and was built around, the lines “The monomyth groans for the lonely” and “the origin story ate the bones of all narrative.” I understand these as lines of criticism, not poetry, and the poem itself is a kind of wee critical essay. But I want its subject to be the subjective feeling that comes from thinking these specific thoughts at this time, instead of having the poem become a structured argument on their behalf. I do think, in my heart, that the origin story—as imported most recently from comic books and sci-fi—has eaten the bones of most filmed narrative. Romantic comedies now structure as origin stories. Documentaries structure as origin stories. 12 Years a Slave was an origin story and so was Bohemian Rhapsody (and all biopics since, maybe, 2000), and so was Room and so is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and most of Netflix. But, to return to the poem: I don’t care if you agree with me (though you’re welcome to!). I don’t care about being rhetorically right. I care about what feeling this way so strongly means as a speaker, citizen, and poet. I care about my separation from popular culture, which is a kind of parent, and the disorienting gush of panic it creates.

I find the tonal range of casual argument so interesting and ripe for poems. Being a person who is sometimes described as “difficult to get along with,” argument is a big part of how I interrogate myself and my peers. The poem tries to service this inspiration by streaking up and down from aesthetic arguments to economic ones (the quick nod to media merges in: “Whole complements of firms competed for our childhoods”), and this should hopefully be seen as something that weakens the rhetorical argument the speaker makes, while strengthening the poem by reflecting the shove-and-pull routine of arguments between friends. 

The poem owes a debt to my friend Paul Vermeersch, who gave it a read-over before submitting, who I argue with a lot about movies, and who--scanning the text over once again--likely disagrees with every critical thought within it. It also owes a debt to A. Light Zachary and Catriona Wright, The Puritan’s poetry people. Thanks to all. 

Jacob McArthur Mooney’s debut book of poetry was the much acclaimed The New Layman's Almanac. His last book, Don’t Be Interesting, was reviewed in the Winter 2017 issue of The Puritan by Adebe DeRango-Adem.

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