In Nervous Device, Catherine Wagner takes inspiration from William Blake's "bounding line" to explore the poem as a body at the intersection between poet and audience. Using this as a figure for sexual, political and economic interactions, Wagner's poems shift between seductive lyricism and brash fragmentation as they negotiate the failure of human connection in the twilight of American empire. Intellectually informed, yet insistent on their objecthood, Wagner's poems express a self-conscious skepticism even as they maintain an optimistically charged eroticism.
"Wagner's fourth collection contains poems of memory and dark artifice. She writes with an obscure, magnetic lens. . . .
"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, Hyperallergic
"Nervous Device is such a smart book. You never know where the poems are going to take you, or when some startling, often cringe-making image or thought will intrude. Unable to settle into a comfortable rhetorical space, these poems reject simple claims to knowing something or doing right or changing the world. Rather, they move like an erratic insect stuck in a language bell jar. Brilliant, and disturbing."—Jennifer Moxley
"Nervous Device, the human machine, palpitating inside its own little bounding lines. These poems do everything the human device does, vibrating like an electrified tornado inside a glass jar, and make this reader profoundly alive to huge swathes of being. There is no machine for mastering the self (yet), but there are Cathy Wagner's poems."—Eleni Sikelianos
"The poems in Nervous Device resonate with a knowing nod to time and the difficulty and struggle of being sentient and intimate—of loving while being human. This is poetry connectivty: sexy, poignant, knowing. And the poems here make me feel possible."—Hoa Nguyen
"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, SF Weekly
"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
"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, The Huffington Post
" . . . 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, HTML Giant
About Catherine Wagner
Reviews for Nervous Device