in ghostly onehead

in ghostly onehead, my first full-length poetry collection, includes 75 never-before-published poems that were written between 23 July 2015 and 12 January 2021, a period of exactly 2,000 days.

The title of this collection comes from a phrase from The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the late 14th century. “In ghostly onehead” essentially means “in spiritual union” with the creative force of the universe. I have long felt that, as a writer, I act as a conduit through which this force flows.

in ghostly onehead was published on Christmas Day 2022 by Post-Asemic Press, and is available at and Barnes & Noble. Click here for orders outside of the United States.

Read the announcement of the book’s publication on the Post-Asemic Press website.

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Praise for in ghostly onehead

In J. D. Nelson’s in ghostly onehead, there are spinach hats, woolen moons, and grass-eating suns. Books growl, forests are cloned, and people talk to bread. There are appearances by Johnny Carson and Paul Stanley, and Nelson himself, in the third person, as a meteorologist. These poems are hilarious yet profound, both cosmic and rooted in the material world.

J. D. Nelson presents a harvest of lines that you wish you’d thought of. More than that, he gathers them up & presents them in a succession of poems you wish that you’d written. It’s a jealous wish, though, because nobody can shape a poem like J. D. can.

He’s a variety of things all gathered together in a compact whole, & he owns it. “I’ve won this earth / I’m wording it this way.” Acrobat, surrealist, rapper, sociologist, mountain-top purveyor of enlightenment, hermit in his underground laboratory. & that’s just with his poetry! He carries on a permanent conversation with the world itself, &, at the same time, maintains a spellcasting commentary on the interchange for the rest of us. If he can’t find the word that fits then he’ll invent one; & the world — & us along with it — smile at his wisdom & we all feel the better for it.

Mark Young, poet, artist, and editor, 5.1.21

American experimental poet, J. D. Nelson, with voicings singular and unique, in in ghostly onehead, his first full-length collection, constructs a playful, melancholic elision. Employing purposeful, visionary poetics including cut-up techniques, he aspires to the radiant, exhibiting taut, bold clarity. A divine mix of the inward, contemplative, and hilarious, Nelson’s poems propose a new-world where “violin hats” and “skin-suits” are in evidence, a crossroads, both circuitous and carnivalesque. The book induces in the reader, a deeply wrought current of ecstasy, the almost-celestial. A synesthesia of a broken-down America, of constructed landscapes where “closing another bank account at midnight/the same meal plan for days and days” is the norm. We discover, journeying back from sacred empty places there is enough “soup for the lonely world”, while “the earth bursts/the moon of that”. One poem’s narrative asserts from “cuts on my hands from puppy teeth/I become the wolf”. In another, a voice proclaims, “I’ve won this earth/I’m wording it this way”. A bravo achievement! Get your hands on this superlative collection (a tour de force).

Robert Frede Kenter, poet, visual artist, publisher of Ice Floe Press

In this full-length collection, J. D. Nelson is both conduit and disembodied other, tethered but distant, like a visitor returning to a birthplace without memory. There is a simultaneous connection and estrangement: “nothing here is the color of the mind.”

If in ghostly onehead involves an ebbing state of aspiration and anticipating want, the mind itself becomes a necessary part of the exile, a banishing of the ego from origin, erasing until nothing is familiar. The texts themselves are deconstructed, both lost and found, pushed away from knowing, the “meaning of the eye.”

J. D. Nelson’s book in ghostly onehead, a book which is nearly half pure couplet, the author has accomplished the unthinkable; he has made a language poetry that is fun, playful and yes, even accessible. Instead of setting literary devices free in a field to wander and do what they will, he has constructed tightly wound hybrids of sound and word poems in such a manner that the mind truly expands when viewing the whole of a couplet, or tercet, or single line in these works, and any time I’d recommend you look back at the title of the poem you are reading and you’ll see this poet has masterfully curated exactly the mind space he wanted to curate for you. There is nobody in the world who does what J. D. Nelson does.

in ghostly onehead, J. D. Nelson’s first full-length collection, takes the lyric’s temperamental ghost on a wild joyride into the riotous, incandescent dreamworld of “wooden water,” “paper sun,” and “the clown cloud car/ one scrambled/ egg mtn.” Tirelessly inventive and unquiet with their creative energies, these poems speak of language and its hidden meanings, of syntactic spins that create meanings, of orality’s emancipatory tactics. Nelson’s ever-curious mind belabors succinct inquiries that move back and forth erratically from the metaphysical “soup for the lonely world” to the physical realm where “you are spidered enough to stand with the roots of the trees.” Spirited and complex, darkly brooding but always with its good humor intact, in ghostly onehead is a memorable and brilliant debut.

Kristine Ong Muslim, author of The Drone Outside

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

I cannot recommend J. D. Nelson’s work strongly enough. I love it! The knotting of wit and image in each poem is also a letting loose, as the imagination ravels and unravels itself in the same gesture. Each poem is its own momentary revelation and surprise; each shows us how to read on its own terms. If you ever think you have got a handle on things, remember “now the earth bursts/ the moon of that”.

There can be a vague feeling sometimes that spirituality, or spiritual direction, is at odds with avant-garde writing – that the one precludes the other. This is a view that has been increasingly challenged (and richly complicated) in recent years by many writers and artists, such as Hank Lazer – not only in the latter’s poetry, but also in his collection of essays, Lyric and Spirit. Nelson’s wonderful collection is ghosted by very different traditions, very different perspectives; by vocabularies variously and winningly inflected – for example, The Cloud of Unknowing hitches with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E folk, Dada, Kerouac and Burroughs; injunctions to silence in Christian mysticism tumble into delighted word play; the Dark Night of the Soul finds itself blinking in other daylights. Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon”, ends with one of my favourite of his lines: “And there I found myself more truly and more strange”. After encountering Nelson’s work, the world is indeed found more truly, more strange – a song sung out of time. 

Cal Wenby, poet and artist

Nelson takes what is best from those old cats, the Beats—the colloquial, the slang, mumblings, abbreviations, and even tosses in an emoji or two for good measure. There is the e e cummings eschewing of capitals, the words meandering like ants on the page. But I also see Eliot and Blake and Hopkins, the old mystics. As the title of the work implies, Nelson has spiritual inclinations. All of these influences are unmistakably there, but Nelson has a voice all his own. These poems are brief, quiet, understated, quietly astonishing. I found myself reading and re-reading them out loud, playing with the words in my mouth. The imagery is startlingly original, each poem a gem, juxtaposing modern life (machines, dry soup mix, fruit punch, football, Home Depot, space travel) with the natural (the sun, the moon, the earth, the body, water, worms, wolves). His poems have a beautiful desolation, a starkness, like a single crow in a snowy field; but they also have a tenderness that communicates the poet’s love of life. He captures our longing for balance between what is human and what is natural—there should be no division, but we all know that there is. Above all, Nelson makes us see the world in a way that we’ve never seen it before, which is a rare gift.

Lauren Scharhag, author of Requiem for a Robot Dog

Poems both brilliant and absurd

Ive been a huge fan of J. D. Nelson for many years, and despite the passage of time one thing remains unchanged, J. D. Nelson stands out from the small press pack with a unique voice that is all his own. It would be too easy to point out the influences of Dada and Surrealism, Burroughs and the cut-up, what I would rather point out is that Nelson writes poems are both deep and playful with the expert efficiency of a haiku master. They are absurdist Zen koans that pack a punch. They take place in that strange place between waking and dream. They are wonderfully weird yet down to earth and I smiled as I read the whole book. In the final poem of the collection, “it squints as it sits” Nelson writes:

yes, a dream
what if there were a room inside of this room?

With in ghostly onehead, he doesn’t answer the question, but he supplies you with all the tools you need to ponder the question yourself.

Wayne Mason, experimental writer + sound artist + vegan

You’ve found the golden poem!

In this first full-length poetry collection for J. D. Nelson, you are taken on a tour-de-force through fertile fields of imagination. Language here is thrown up in the air with a certain exuberance, with fragmented phrases left to fall where they may. But the cut-ups still hint at a narrative of constant curiosity and existential examination. In one moment phrases are cut into fragments of sound, in another sublime philosophical thoughts trickle through, like: “earth makes rocks / and waits for you to look at them.”

In the same poem fragments of words are turned over and over in the mouth, savored like a piece of chocolate, but then wistfully “you wish for something else / but it is bread and bread and bread.”

After all, “this is the brain walking.”

Within this collection you’ll be treated with glimpses of childhood ephemera, icons of TV and music, “out-words and up-words,” “search party americanisms,” and appearances by J. D. himself in the third-person, whether it be as a monster, a meteorologist, or a “policeman in a felt suit.”

This collection was an absolute joy to read. J. D. Nelson is “the pirate of the ‘wow’.”

petro c. k.poet, artist, musician, editor

raw fun

This ranks with the very best of Tristan Tzaras Dada period  an unabashed frolic in the ruckus of language, always alert to the potential for a surprise or a jolt of unexpected recognition. What might appear to some readers to be haphazard flotsam is carefully curated and arranged for maximum effect, in the manner of a Merz collage. I found this collection to be utterly magnetic fun, and plan on revisiting it regularly.

Alexander Dickowauthor of Appetites

J. D. Nelson stuns in his first full-length poetry collection, in ghostly onehead. He jumps right in the deep end and we willingly tag along. Throughout these 75 previously unpublished poems, Nelson unleashes his inner Dada as he splashes the absurd. Surrealism? Oh, yeah. He embraces it all. I have been a fan of Nelson’s short-form poetry featured in international journals and in various chapbooks, yet I was unprepared for the depth of in ghostly onehead. Wow! A bit of Burroughs? Yes. A dash of Kerouac? Yes. Both B and K are present in spirit. Methinks I hear those finger snaps from afar.

Roberta Beach Jacobson, author of Demitasse Fiction: One-Minute Reads for Busy People

Et cum spiritu tuo

J. D. Nelson is one of the most prolific poets that I know or know of. He produces poems as if possessed; and in a way he is – channeling the “ghostly onehead” or as Gysin and Burroughs called it, the Third Mind. In the blank spaces between lines and stanzas are spiritual connections, bringing together the seemingly random images and narratives. The lines, even when juxtaposing Dadaistic imagery have a lyrical resonance. “would you prefer the jazz station / or the lark of the wind? / stare at the sun with me / the lone merit and sleep for coal eyes” These poems ask the reader to be engaged and explore the poetic spirit. This collection of poems awaits, et cum spiritu tuo.

Yrik-Max Valentonis, poet, author of Cranium Theatre

In a New and Different World

In his first full-length poetry collection, in ghostly onehead, J. D. Nelson moves with a relaxed sense of wonder and wit through a daily life whose reality shifts with the perceptions inherent in the language of Dada, Surrealism and literary cutup techniques thrusting into his path. The implications of Nelson’s exploratory language address his moment-by-moment interpretations of the unresolvable with a humor as offbeat and unexpected as the phenomena that reshape it.

Vernon Frazer, poet, musician, multimedia artist, and author of Memo from Alamut