A book of poems about rock albums that’s the size of a single suggests concept-focus issues, which Daniel Nester’s God Save My Queen: A Tribute bears out. As a formal exercise, it’s incomplete—if you’re going to write a short prose poem for every song Queen released, in order, why stop with 1982’s Hot Space when they made five more studio albums? And as an evocation of the band’s grandiose glories, it’s needlessly caught up in tiny, obscurantist half-thoughts and distractions. “Rock ‘n’ roll don’t need no referent,” Nester declares vis-à-vis “Ogre Battle,” even as he glosses his book with over a hundred not-too-helpful annotations.
Nester’s poems alternately respond to the songs themselves, allude to the band’s biographical trivia, and address his personal history as a fan. Almost all read like notes-while-listening or demos, lacking the studio gloss their dense phrasemaking deserves: They’re rambling, fragmentary, slightly too clever (“A reversed Ralph Waldo, eyeball to eyeball”), often garbled (“Nowadays, I’m not supposed to like it, the South American soap opera, a third man springs up mid-screen. You with your watchdogs and retirement mind-set”). Curiously, Nester’s best poems—the ones where his observations and language get in each other’s way the least—are inspired by Queen’s most famous songs. But like the records it celebrates, the book’s filler-prone and itching for a greatest hits.