The Unfastening

In this, Wesley McNair’s ninth collection of poetry, readers will find not only the work of a mature poet, but a particular and personal vision of life. Combining sorrow, humor, and joy, the volume asks the difficult question: when faced with conflict and struggle, how do you fasten yourself back down again? Beginning with poems of grief and loss, the book moves to the losses of others: a Japanese war bride whose husband’s death leaves her with two young children far from home; a survivalist who talks to deer after his wife of 40 years has moved out on him; an old and failed painter who ropes himself to his windswept roof to view the beauty of coastal islands. The pursuit of beauty, the blessings of nature, the love of a mate, and connections we make with others in the course of everyday life, these are the reigning consolations in the midst of unfastening.

A distinctly New England strain of candor and restraint and a walloping matter-of-factness. – The Boston Globe

Maps an emotional adult journey from despair to acceptance – Bangor Daily News

Reviews for The Unfastening appear in the Boston Globe and Bangor Daily News.

Often referred to as “a poet of place,” Wesley McNair captures the ordinary lives of northern New Englanders while writing about family conflict and other autobiographical subjects. His poems often explore American dreams interwoven with family drama and public culture. A New Hampshire native who has lived for many years in Mercer, Maine, McNair has authored nineteen books, nine of which are collections of poetry, including The Faces of Americans of 1853 (1983), The Town of No (1989), and Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems (2010). His most recent book are The Lost Child: Ozark Poems (2014) and The Words I Chose: A Memoir of Family and Poetry (2012).

In a review of The Ghost of You and Me (2006), Philip Levine admired McNair’s “many skewed and irresistible characters who manage to get into odd situations for which there is only one remedy: to persevere. … he strikes me as one of the great storytellers of contemporary poetry.” Introducing McNair to readers of the Boston Review, poet Donald Hall noted both the sounds of his individual lines and the cadences of entire poems: “By speech are McNair’s people fixed in the album of McNair’s art.”

He has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and United States Artists. Among his other honors are the Robert Frost Prize, the Theodore Roethke Prize, the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book, the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal for “distinguished contribution to the world of letters,” and five honorary degrees. McNair has served four times on the Pulitzer Poetry jury and was poet laureate of Maine from 2011 to 2016. A teacher for several decades, McNair is currently professor emeritus and writer in residence at the University of Maine at Farmington.