Grrr . . . Photo by David Reiss
Grrr . . . Photo by David Reiss

'I Write Like Suicide Bombers Pray'

It's hard to think of another poet who's reflected Orange County poetry in the past decade better than Mindy Nettifee. In the early '90s, when the hub of OC poetic life was the late Jam's Coffeehouse in Huntington Beach, Nettifee was a teenage prodigy, writing caffeine- and nicotine-fueled neo-beat verse laden with the exuberance and vitality of a rediscovered art form being ushered back into society from the wild.

From the late '90s to the early 21st century, when the poetry slam was kicking up at Long Beach's Blue Caf and Nettifee was making her first appearances on the national stage, she was a glamorous riot grrrl—her work literate, vulnerable and increasingly complex, even as she mastered the art of projecting a powerful persona from behind a microphone.

Both she and OC poetry faded into the woodwork for a spell, and that was cause for concern. But now she's back with her first full-length book—Sleepyhead Assassins on Huntington Beach's new Moon Tide Press—and all of her past selves seem to have synthesized into a startlingly mature writer, without abandoning any of the lessons learned in those incarnations.

Nettifee's writing is vivid and evocative: "you met me the year i bought my first ashtray,/the year i checked out a copy of Lolita/from the public library and never returned it," and tinged with an underlying desperation: "i write like suicide bombers pray—on a regular basis./like my after-life depended on it./like my after-life is now."

However, it's in poems such as the brutal "Honest Friday"—in which she takes a hard look at the changes in her life and how she's had to change to deal with them—where she shines best: "i know there will be no rising above this./i've left my charges to the sharks./sometimes War comes home for dinner and never leaves./i am always surprised what i can live with."

Sleepyhead Assassins is an extremely satisfying read, the culmination of an escalating potential that is only now beginning to come into its own.

Sleepyhead Assassins by Mindy Nettifee; Moon Tide Press. Softcover, 60 pages, $12; Nettifee reads at the Gypsy Den Grand Central, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840. Tues., 8 p.m. Free.


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