Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Steve Langan


Langan expertly positions his poems right on the cusp between comprehension and confusion, in that wonderfully liminal state of discovery. Though the poems are often sad, as well as sly, funny, worrisome, and unlikely, this book keeps the mind happy by giving it again and again the charge it needs to create the experience of newness. — Catie Rosemurgy

“What am I listening for?” Steve Langan writes. “The lyric of damages, with slivers of lightning.” But he is very aware of himself as a maker of poems, and of poems as forms of inherited, though not necessarily genuine, feeling. His impulse is to interrogate the uses of language, to probe, often comically, at the consciousness of art, revealing what is essential. It's this rejection of a received sense of value that intrigues me about his work, the feeling that he is trying to clarify how poems can move and act if they are to truly speak for us. — Bob Hicok

I'm consistently jealous of Steve Langan's small-a absurdist accuracy, not to mention his unfailing ability to dredge gorgeous song from the hum of the normal. Meet Me at the Happy Bar is sharp, sad, sassy, and frighteningly alive. — Graham Foust

Langan’s got this stuff down cold in the brightest possible way; the man uses words like a tinkerer delighting in some strange attic, stuccoing his lines with toothsome phrases enough to make the poems almost feel like meals (”How mere “pilfering” may play / under the kleig lights. // Petty theft.”).
What makes Langan’s Meet Me at the Happy Bar stand so far out from other collections is not just the whirligig zip and whiplash he causes by putting disparate lines next to and on top of each other (”The answer is deer at the salt lick. / What I mean is rare coins and stamps.”), nor the ache for some substantial meaning to bedazzle all this flotsam onto, some foundation to leave the heaps upon. No, what makes this all such a big deal is the explicit emphasis of now, of time.
Langan’s poetry throughout shines — sweats, even — with a desperate awareness that time is critical, is passing. His poems acknowledge that, yes, meaning and understanding and sense are all critical and to-be-reached-for things, but instead of taking a sort of beard-stroking well, let’s see attitude, his poems damn near vibrate with urgency. — Make Magazine

In Notes on Exile Langan breaks the stranglehold of the reasonable, leaps out the window of his submarine onto "a brickledge crumbling" — seeking always untenable positions and indecipherable causes. Reading him we realize how much our thinking has been circumscribed, foundationed, and edified — and how desperate we are for what is forced, abandoned and untamed. ... There is a burden of freedom in this book which approaches the absolute. — from the introduction by Greg Kuzma

Though the landscapes of the poems are distinctly interior and psychological, one cannot help but read this interior as a uniquely American one. Much of the anomie and anxiety in Notes on Exile & Other Poems seems to be the product of a culture where rapture is trivialized by its proximity with the quotidian, and language is often a treacherous, euphemistic subterfuge. ... Langan is clearly developing his considerable gift to elegize the framgmented, desperate, and soulful American poetic voice on the cusp of the twenty-first century. — Prairie Schooner

I like the poems a lot: aphoristic, dream-like, with a gentle urgency and "humorous sadness." — Cahiers de Corey

Steve Langan's brilliant first book is full of passion suffused with irony, poems cagily built to deconstruct sentimentality by using self-consciousness as a kind of comic foil. But for all the poet's clever feints and evasions, at the core of the work beats the heart of a romantic. Langan's methods are luminously impressionistic, and the poems percolate with image and materiality, inflection and the full-throated music of language. Freezing glitters with the distant light (or explosions of inner light) of a hundred small moments colliding where perception meets the self in the "unbeautiful city." — from the jacket

There is something brave and unremitting in these beautifully realized testaments to the unbeautiful city, these dark hymns to the republic, the industrial heartland. I rejoice in this act of poetic warming, in the way Steve Langan has taken a landscape of emotional destitution and transformed it into the sure incantatory cadences of art. — Edward Hirsch

After great pain, an informal feeling comes and these funny, wise, casually urgent poems are here to bear witness. Here is a new voice out of the prairie but its ancestors go way back to awe, to the beginning. — Carol Muske

These are tough, gritty, and beautiful poems. Be aware of this, reader: Freezing will set you on fire! — Thomas Lux

In Langan's debut collection, Freezing, the poet struggles in tightly focused poems of process and meditative excursion into the declining Midwestern city to find some justification and sense of well-being in his own violent and "unbeautiful city." The result is an always accurate, often sublime, ultimately optimistic body of poems. ... Freezing unsettles and captivates, comforts and dissects, despairs and rejoices. In stark and unrelenting language, Langan imbues his landscape with a palette that extends well beyond the traditional grays of the industrial Midwest. He encourages us to be full of rancor, vision, and passion with poems that more than invite, insist that we "go out into the noise." — Black Warrior Review

Freezing is an impressive performance, both in many of its individual poems and its architectonics, its deft mingling of private and imagined other selves. — American Book Review

Nothing could be worse for a poet than to be termed "sentimental" — the specter of Hallmark looming in the shadows — but as Richard Hugo famously advised, poets must risk sentimentality in order to approach good poetry. Steve Langan takes this risk in his first collection, Freezing, and time and again the bet pays off. Langan’s desolate Midwest landscapes and off-the-chart emotional IQ inevitably bring Hugo to mind. ... With both Hugo and Langan, the prospect of good poetry in these terminally John Wayne situations seems slim to none, making their prodigious poetic accomplishments all the more astonishing. Far from the helpless victim of these prairie vagrancies, as Hugo often portrays himself, Langan remains firmly in control of the universe of his poems, absorbing their images and creating his own peculiar mythology. — Jacket Magazine, #19, October 2002/Verse, October 2002

In Freezing, there is a constant friction with reality; it is not borne out of some arbitrary antagonism, but out of an abiding need for something sacred, and out of Langan's maddening certainty that the sacred resides somewhere, in the outreaches of the unbeautiful city and the unbeautiful self. — Indiana Review

Langan's first book is a startling collection of poems about the unbeautiful and the abandoned. ... Langan's poems are about risk, about the dangerous maneuvering required to drive home in the middle lane. This is the middle lane between praise and complaint. It is the unadorned rendering of life, a tough honesty, that makes the journey worth while; by refusing to make life into legend, Langan writes poems that are relevant to anyone fortunate enough to pick up this book. ... readers, Freezing must be experienced! — Virginia Quarterly Review

["The Black Pants"] series is sucessful in part because of Langan's comic timing, the patterns of pauses and phrases, the short, declarative sentences. But it is also successful because of his awareness that not only would no one else believe this is a simple set of poems about an object, he wouldn't believe it either. To claim so would be even more ludicrous than Frost claiming that the two roads that diverge in a yellow wood were merely literal paths he once came across while walking. Writers of his generation do play games — many of them — but not those which underestimate their own or their readers' savvy. — Green Mountains Review

Growing up in the Midwest, I heard records from Husker Du, the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo and other heartland bands in a particular way, in a way that taught me (for better and for worse) how to live — and how not to live — in my given surroundings, as well as how to love those surroundings even when I loathed them. Lately, the hard, dark poems in Freezing, a book largely set in Omaha, Nebraska (or someplace very much like it), have been doing the same thing for me that those records once did. — Graham Foust, Third Factory

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