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The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House
Winner of the 2010 Felix Pollak Prize


As its title suggests, The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House explores the near misses of tragedy and transcendence, seeking to discover how we are changed by our brushes with miracle and disaster. Lantz’s focus is both roving and microscopic—the Challenger explosion, Bigfoot, a love letter written from inside a missile silo, a mother naming and re-naming a family’s short-lived pets, and even a plea for post-9/11 redemption all come under his scrutiny as he plunges the reader into worlds that are both eccentric and familiar, both alarming and hopeful.

Praise for the Book

These are poems about the real America: we’re not talking about rhubarb pies and picket fences, but of the beheaded plastic lambs at Noah’s Funland and the LSD-spiked punchbowl at the prom. Blending pop culture with history, dark humor with philosophy, and lyric intensity with a confident narrative voice, The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House adds up to be far greater than the sum of its parts. The end result is a wise, intelligent book that lingers long after being read, and which further proves that Nick Lantz—despite the lethal irony of his work—is a poet to be believed in.

—Kevin González, author of Cultural Studies

Nick Lantz’s impressive poems are remarkable for their range and the variety of ways they maneuver down the page. There are arrow-like and probing narratives along with instances of witty word-play, and many which move on a broad front in a wave-like motion that mixes the contemporary with the ancient in a kind of surrealism unique to Lantz’s sensibility. Throughout this collection the language is sure-footed and resonant with multiple meanings, not the least of which is a keen awareness of the harsh dilemmas our time compels us to face. This is one of the finest books I’ve read in years.

—Vern Rutsala, author of How We Spent Our Time

Lantz is a poet of many talents, but perhaps his greatest gift is juxtaposition; he sets beside each other ideas compelling in themselves but apparently unrelated—Jacob and Leah, cow bones buried in a back yard, Sasquatch, and a brother disappearing into addiction in one poem; a refugee, giant squid, and the fact that “waking in bed at night, our own bodies often startle us” in another—and we listen, amazed, as in poem after poem these notations we would have thought dissonant in fact harmonize, and then crescendo. That I can’t figure out how he does it just heightens the thrill.

—Joel Brouwer, author of And So


From the The Rumpus, “Disinclined to Mislead Anyone” (by Rachel Richardson)

Lantz forces us again and again to reexamine the way we see through such juxtaposition of facts as well as through the voices of characters who search for and experience improbable things: a cryptozoologist, those listening for aliens with SETI, a sci-fi actor, a werewolf. The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House becomes a lament not only for the neighbors and their tragedy but for ourselves—that we’re unharmed, that we can keep on keeping on. Mom replaces our dead pets; Theseus’ ship is so well cared for by the Athenians that each rotting plank is replaced until nothing is left of the original. There’s a sadness in surviving, in finding out one can keep going even after the metaphorical end. Lantz diagnoses us with this sickness, dubs it “affluenza”—but he doesn’t stop at despair. He examines our state, questioning what’s left to us. ... In this form of tight contrasts and strangely intimate images, Lantz lets us look sideways at our world. He outmaneuvers linear patterns, finding resonance in the most unlikely pairings—knowing, as he says in “The Cricket in the Basement,” that “Every aim/ is an asymptote,/ and the blind spot is in the center of the human eye.”

From the Wisconsin Academy of Science & Letters, “The Lightning that Strikes the Neighbors' House: Poems, by Nick Lantz” (by John Lehman)

At first Lantz's groupings of observations seem random, lacking a beginning, middle, or end. Then, inexplicably, form materializes. This is poetry that faces inward. The result is for us to see everything, on and off the page, in metaphors. And what these metaphors convey is the real subject of the pieces. A turning point for me was the wonderfully titled poem “Bride Believes Terrorists Kidnapped Missing Groom.” It pulls us in expecting one thing (a hysterical woman makes up a story to explain her missing groom) and lets us out saddened, less-cynical, and changed on the other side.