Generation Why by Nicholas Gagnier

Defining a generation more by a feeling than by happenstance of age, Gagnier speaks to those who have grown into lives of comfort but not meaning. In an attack more melancholy than brutal – yet no less effective – he exposes both risk and solution without reducing individuals solely to their generation.

This collection contains 12 poems inspired by the experiences of those born in the United States of America between 1980 and 2000; often labelled Generation Y.

As Gagnier says in his own description of the collection, these children – now reaching, or grown to, adulthood – didn’t have a defining obstacle to their generation: they didn’t start the civil rights movement; they didn’t watch their parents devoured by Vietnam. Without an easily defined, obvious enemy to be the counterpoint to their virtue, they too often drift into a malaise of good enough and slacktivism; they become “a shadow generation of save-the-dates who never showed.”

Despite this sombre inspiration, the collection has – as is clear from the pun of the title onward – an equal humour and lightness of language.

Regardless of
lover, we all get
undressed for
avoiding the
nights alone.

– United Fates

The first poem, “United Fates”, fittingly both highlights the commonalities of Gagnier’s core audience and sets out his call to action. However, this is neither a cliquey “Ten Things You’ll Only Get If You’re Really Gen Y”, nor a demand to assault the poet’s chosen enemy. Instead, Gagnier provides snapshots of life that can speak to any who find the routines of life tedious, and suggests the first step must be moving away from acceptance.

Swipe right
to kill the dream.

– Kissing Strangers

There’s ample room for
progress,
but you won’t find that
here,

just porn and
the peasants who finally have
a platform.

– Break the Internet

However, this lack of railing against a favourite enemy doesn’t mean the collection is anodyne or passive. Gagnier is unafraid to challenge his audience when they mistake comfort for a world with few problems, or consider all attempts at protest equal.

I was taught benchmarks for love, success and faith that have become irrelevant in the dark.

– Someday We Will Laugh

He equally cuts his audience slack where it is due. Just as the cure for one disease seldom works for many others, so the motivations of the past (based as they are on a defining struggle) provide little assistance to those without an Other to bastion their self-image against.

Although the main thrust of the collection is that a generation of Americans lacked an external symbol of their selfhood, there are several references to two of the defining experiences of their childhoods: the attack on the Twin Towers, and the global recession. However, cast into the spotlight of media that has moved on before it’s arrived, Gagnier shows them to be both too ephemeral and too complex to anchor a world-view.

I will pray
for you as atheists might never do.

– Children of my Children

While the strongest message threaded through the collection is that each person must find their own path beyond uncomfortable acceptance, Gagnier does offer one tangible goal: leaving the next generation better off than yourself. Echoing the themes of eternal reward vs immediate gratification in religion, he holds up the idea that each generation can put aside their own ease to receive the enduring blessing of history.

Ultimately, Gagnier offers up the very apathy and diffuse requirements of modern life as the hidden great enemy of the generation, but leaves it – as is proper – to each reader to challenge it with their own set of positive choices.

Overall, I liked this collection. I recommend it to readers of any generation seeking modern poetry that remains free of aggression and profanity without sacrificing its power.

I received a free advanced copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

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10 thoughts on “Generation Why by Nicholas Gagnier

    1. The collection or the review?

      I’d love to think Gagnier was too pessimistic about Gen Y’s lack of motivation. However, the media seem to agree, and it’s hard to tell how much of that is hyperbole and slant.

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    1. I’m officially Gen X as well; and found a real passion in both art and law. But I can relate to Gagnier’s message, too. I suspect anyone who feels there’s more to life than washing away the irritation of their job with convenience food and passive entertainment will.

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