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ISBN: 978-1-955239-07-3
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Categories Nomadic, Poetry

Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory

Publication Date: September 2021


In June of 2023, Black Lawrence Press welcomed numerous existing and forthcoming Nomadic Press titles to our catalogue. Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory was originally published by Nomadic.

The poems in Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory interrogate identity, family, loneliness, and the expectations of masculinity. Using dreams, blues, and a chorus of voices, this collection of poems examines the complexities of intimacy for an adopted person trying to find balance between two families—one rattled by age and illness; the other, holding space for a son that doesn’t exist.


Here is the flora and fauna of a man searching and learning to understand family: blood nurture and the conjunctive experience that will bring him in relation. In these poems, I hear Cagney asking, where do I belong and who do I belong to? But most tenderly, held between Cagney’s satirical storytelling, passionate syntax, and exacting images, is the poet being undone and done again by love. Love in its varying degrees of presence and absence. Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory is a beautiful book, insofar as Cagney is using poetry as the ritualistic intermediary to transform (familial, personal, and cultural) shame into beauty, into something that is useful for the living.
Arisa White, poet, author of You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened and Hurrah’s Nest

James Cagney’s writing is the type where if you do not savor each word, you will miss something vital and beautiful. Each piece is a story-world with its own rules, but somehow (impossibly) connects to the overall project. Please read any and everything James Cagney writes. You will be better for it.”
Shawn Taylor, author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity

The poems in Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory capture chaos in the palm of the hand, and then release meaning back into the world about the importance of our roots and history. This collection is a powerful journey into the search for bloodlines and meaning. The poet finds ways to speak to the crucial stories that tell us about our origins and how they can define us and redefine us throughout a lifetime. The details and metaphor are woven in an artful way. Anyone reading these poems will carry layers of elegies and explorations with them, long after closing the book. In stepping into this collection, one will find the alchemy of loss, and how the evolving stories of one family make for an exploration of mothers, fathers, stories, aunts, uncles, loneliness and a reconciliation of sorrow. In turning the pages, one will stand facing the ocean, discover how to grow orchids, how to be polite to birds, contemplate last rites, and a burial at sea. There is much to behold in this masterful book and one will be compelled to examine “the endless equations calibrated on night’s chalkboard.”
Connie Post, Poet Laureate Emerita of Livermore, CA 2005 to 2009, author of “Floodwater,” and winner of the 2014 Lyrebird Award

I remember first hearing James Cagney read poems in a packed backroom in Oakland and being entirely shook by what this man can do with language. Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos makes good on that promise of strangeness, urgency, lyric prowess, and invention. Toggling between loss, therapy, the pastoral, illness, the humorously personable, and the darkly familial—at every turn this book surprises, aches, & delights. “what flower / cuts thru the bullshit / between people”— Do yourself a favor and read it thrice.
Sam Sax, author of Madness

About the Author

© Rohan DeCosta

James Cagney

Oakland native James Cagney is a poet and Cave Canem Fellow. He has appeared as a featured artist at Museum of The African Diaspora (MOAD SF), The DeYoung Museum and the Oakland Museum, as well as the Winter Warmer Poetry Festival in Cork, Ireland,  Miko Kuro's Midnight Tea: Midnight In Mumbai (2012), Celebration of the Word with Maya Angelou (2001), Four Brothers Featuring Will Power, and Ritual Theater 2000. He read for established series Moondrop Productions, Lyrics and Dirges, and in Sacramento, Ca, the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series and for both Litquake and Beast-Crawl.

His work has been published in Alta Magazine, Poetry Daily, Tandem, Eleven Eleven, The Maynard, Civil Liberties United, Anvil Tongue Books, The Racket Journal, As Of Late IV, anthologies Best American Poetry 2022, Lines OnLine Collection 2022, Black Powerful (edited by Natasha Marin), Colossus: Home, All The King's Horses, Silver Pinion, Caduceus, Barbershop Chronicles, Beat Not Beat (edited by Kim Shuck), Susurrus, Peregrine Journal, The Scribbler, InterlitQ Magazine, Ambush Review, Sparring With The Beatnik Ghosts, and on-line at Lime Hawk, Print Oriented Bastards, Typehouse Magazine, Fresh Hot Bread, and

James has facilitated poetry workshops at the San Francisco Public Library, Taking Notes series for and Alameda Island Poets. He has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle,  and on and KXSF.FM.

He wrote and performed an original monologue, The Two Chairs as part of the Afro-Solo Arts Festival, and unrehearsed stories for The Shout Storytelling Series.

As a poet, he has performed at countless venues including Cal State Hayward, Barry University in Miami, Reader's Bookstore at Fort Mason Center and Art House in Berkeley, The Starry Plough, La Pena Cultural Center, Above Paradise Lounge, The Stork Club, Spasso's Cafe, The Jahva House, Florey's Books in Pacifica, Department of Make Believe, Grace Cathedral and the OK Hotel.

His first book, Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour Of Chaos Theory, won the PEN Oakland 2019 Josephine Miles award. His second book, Martian: The Saint of Loneliness, (Nomadic Press) won the winner of the 2021 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and was nominated for the 43rd Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Visit

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