Poets’ Guide to America maps the cultural landscape of the fifty US states and more in the adventuresome and humorous collaborative poetic debuts of John F. Buckley and Martin Ott.
Here there be krakens, zeppelins, topiary dragons, leather stockings, anthems, matchlocks, SEALs, Vikings, mancaves, lunar fontanels, kick- & dodgeball, a Chevette, Circe, a prosthetic chin, antebellum atria, zombie politicians, chemical runoff, brown-bag lunches, gangsters, chicken sex, merwolverines, Cthulhoid dill pickles, curdled poutine, buffalo nickels, Styrofoam, tallowed fries, hamster coffins, astonishing acts, nipples, riots, Versace graffiti, spasms, Jell-O shots, M-16 carbines, the musical head of Walt Disney, Benzedrine, gold lamé briefs, a cyborg centaur, ululating hounds, anthropomorphized cities, a Boeing ergonomist, tramp stamps, stroked foreheads, wyrms, badgers, crocodile tears, a Hail Mary, moustaches, armadillos, Zion National Park, rhythmic gymnastics, lepidopteran robots, reluctant heroines, Bud Selig, Ducatis, duende, Keebler Elves, inmate foodies, biometric scans, cross-species embryos, mummified Anasazis, magma pools, ukuleles, grizzlies, loiny carpaccio, pentagonal marmalade skies, & much, much more…
by John F. Buckley & Martin Ott
Pub Date: November 1, 2012
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You’ve stumbled upon the best travelogue you’ll ever find…a book for the ages, and for our age and place.
John F. Buckley and Martin Ott are extremely talented poets, schooled in their craft, who are already well on their way to the “A List” of their generation, and are thought by many—myself included—to be there already. This comprehensive collection will be on the shelves and in the hands of those readers who endeavor to chart the course of poetic art in our time.
The tag-team poetry of Buckley and Ott is as much a kin to the works of John Ashbery and Edward Field as it is to the radio skits of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Their euphonious cacophony of wordplay, ingenious turn-of-phrase concoctions, and steady stream of pop/cross-cultural references create an erudite mix of levelheaded nonsense and harebrained smarts.
Poets’ Guide to America is, in the truest sense, a road trip, wherein Buckley and Ott take turns behind the wheel, co-writing poems line by line, stanza by stanza. The result is an innovative exploration into Americana that travels over as many dusty back roads as it does major highways. Do yourself a favor and let them take you for a ride.
In a scene oversaturated with trite, predictable fluff, it is refreshing to see challenging work of this caliber. I appreciate the ambition, scope, and fantastic weirdness of this collection.
Rain Taxi: “This is an America of flickering neon-lit dive bars in the cities and secret government labs in the desert; you half expect to run into Humbert Humbert in a motel parking lot or Dean Moriarty hitching a ride in a circus truck.”
decomP: “Every page here could be quoted. You are wasting time reading a review, a novelty postcard with cartoony ciphers for all the things you could visit and see. Get out there and read this book instead.”
Switchback: “Buckley and Ott’s clarity, sense of humor and piercing tone of originality create a space where unfamiliar readers can quickly discover something to love about this book.”
Bookin’ With Sunny: “Poets’ Guide to America gives us something that the traditional textbooks do not – a musicality of language that only poetry can achieve and the liberties to linger on details that get overshadowed by the main points and big attractions.”
Review in Big Muddy.
Dark wood paneling in Delaware. Drywall in Idaho. Both suspend dartboards
surrounded by decades of pockmarks, architectural acne scars accumulated
through tipsy misses in mancaves, first the fathers’, then their teenaged sons’.
In the basement of an Elks lodge in New Hampshire, an AA meeting takes
place under watchful animal heads, beer caps of final libations on display,
while in the cellar of a Vermont tavern microbrews are poured for teens.
Except for the glug of the sump pump, nothing seeps into the subterranean
bliss of the Baltimore urologist’s love nest, a warm, moist shrine of soft leather
divans, new jack swing singles, and sweet cream puffs fresh from the mini-fridge.
The Princetonian Daily editor finds herself going too often to the Jersey shore,
hanging with homeboys in a canning room converted into a hydroponic deli,
sucking from a many-armed hookah, wondering whose hands are whose.
There’s a huge pit in Saipan, the site of the future foundation of the largest
mall east of Manila and west of Costa Mesa. They plan to call it The Trench.
For now, children chat in Chamorro and play in the pools at the bottom.
In a retrofitted septic tank, a Gulf War vet builds his Biloxi bunker for two,
willing to gamble that the blond bombshell he envisions will not blow up
during the long Nuclear Winter. He places Chardonnay on his Costco list.
A grandma with a master’s in economics from the University of West Virginia
cans furiously or lackadaisically, depending on prevailing winds from Wall Street.
Mining her cellar for jars of green beans and such has saved many in lean times.
A Mark Twain scholar in New Haven buries treasure maps in his backyard
that leads to his buried savings in gold and proof that this great man of letters
proved the existence of aliens in the same caves that swallowed Tom Sawyer.
Yankee Jenn calls Sumter “Scumter” for its lack of good pizza and the scarcity
of drummers who like manga music and Bowie, and would follow her downstairs
for jam sessions and objective feedback on her mail-order specialty contact lenses.
The underground tunnels of America tentacle in bugged embassy wine cellars,
downed Japanese submarines in Guam trenches, lunar fontanels and deep
mistrust of benign heaps, invented tongues and ululations from our speakers.
Each hidden space serves as a synapse, a nerve pocket pulsing with private
memories beneath a collective dirtskin of baseball diamonds, picket fences,
two-car garages: one level deeper, one beat closer to the human heart.
Ghazal in Georgia
Atlanta is your peach basket, the humid breeding ground of Coke.
But what evokes your soul—the complex tang of Coke?
My hands cradle the curving bottle, the slick hourglass shape.
Burn in my throat, then spin the bottle, sweet childhood of Coke.
But now you slip my grasp into the hands of thirsty men.
I weep and launch myself in pursuit of the flight of Coke.
Everything dark and cold reminds me of you.
The red of your label is my blood, the secret recipe of Coke.
Your vats hold cola potions and the coda in our spinal fluid.
Pepsi lovers unknowingly hum their devotion to Coke.
Aunt Rosemary spurns all coffee and tea as bitter pretenders.
She slips out at dawn for her monarch, a two-liter scepter of Coke.
The downtown plaza flashes with The Real Thing in Hotlanta.
Skateboarders and dancers perform acrobatics on the letters of Coke.
Shaken-can bubbles spray forth like aerated pollen in springtime.
Each arc of froth seeds the wind with a caramelized cascade of Coke.
Will I one day wake up as a fly, living in an empty aluminum can?
The fizz grows flat in the brainpan caking my imagination with Coke.
I’d like to teach the world perfectly harmonious wedding hymns.
I spy a reverent moonlit hill, sister wives, brother grooms, married to Coke.
My waist loves the aspartame; my rum the lemon-lime boost.
I yearn to spelunk for the buried flavor combinations of Coke.
John Pemberton and Asa Griggs Candler watch from on high.
Two hundred countries sell their concoction, a worldwide web of Coke.
On a country road choked with kudzu, a toothless man suckles at happiness.
The truth of this, an endless well, is the loneliness of Coke.
The American Legends of Iowa 80 Truck Stop
They’re here. Wandering highways, alleys, and flight paths from decades ago,
stuck in the shade on the far side of noon, they finally rolled to a halt at map-
center and picked up some job applications, having garnered new skills during
exile. No one was said to come first and nobody duked for seniority, happy
just to have hands again, counting your change, changing your tires, rotating
vegetables on the fifty-foot salad bar. Amelia Earhart stitched roses on pillows
in the Embroidery Center, along with the occasional joke like, “I’m Lost,” and
propeller-nosed puppies on scarves. She was no longer welcome at Truckomat
after sudsing and stealing a stray pilot’s Cessna after he landed and entered
the snack shop for Slim Jims and nacho-cheese corn chips. You should’ve
seen him shoot from the building, all jerky and orange, hollering until Thelma
restrained him by hammerlock and Louise chucked him in the mall drunk
tank. To soothe things over, the brain of Walt Disney piped in tunes plucked
from the wireless ether and DJed non-stop from the sub-basement brainframe.
The few wayward children who stopped by his booth were told secrets, like how
Muzak was the rock-n-roll of the afterlife channeled through underwater angels.
Afterwards, the kids were handed aprons and schedules by Elvis, HR Director,
and trained for the swing shift. They were taught to brew truckers’ coffee rich
with road tar and Benzedrine, then shown their new homes. “Yes’m, your parents
will worry and cry, but your parents would anyway. No use to lie.” There were
kindly faux uncles about, like dark-browed yet jolly Judge Crater, who every
new moon pulled Jimmy Hoffa from the empty trunk of an antique Avery truck.
The two snuck past rent-a-guards still skittish from the Civil War to give the movie
theater a good mopping, always eager to collect the extra gum and kickbacks
from D. B. Cooper, since damned for all eternity to be unable to spend his money.
No matter how many chrome items he polishes in the Warehouse Store or hours
donated as a part-time dentist, the hijacker works for free, his face still hopeful
behind mirror shades and a chamois surgical mask. Manning Lost and Found,
the Zodiac Killer collected rumors of Waldo, the perpetually red-hatted curiosity
whose crimson streaks led him to choose a wig matching the raw locks of Wendy,
dimpled goddess of meaty male fantasies. Eddie Wilson was there, on the lam,
a janitor who once disrupted the jazzy transcendental cooing of a toilet-stall tangle
of limbs, Glenn Miller and Margaret Fuller in flagrante delicto, both having left
their fast-food stations for wave after wave of the body remembering. Now wake,
wake between waking and sleep, and recognize these spirits. It’s the wee hours,
caffeine failing, your jittery eyes drinking in the pocked highway shoulders.
You notice ahead a slight displacement of history, a flutter of neon. There’ll be racks
of nail cutters and trucker caps with swear words. They beckon you. You’ll join small
talk at the register. Each of you an epic story of the road. Hints of folly. Footnotes.
The Darlings of New Orleans
And here we are again, where swift winds blast
the consciousness from her as surely as datura, leave her
picking up her own bones, her teeth. And here we are,
again, draining clots from antebellum atria, rinsing silt
from the drapes without hope of finding gold flecks.
Blood-born rats have been needled from the arteries,
hurricane paste raked clean from alleys, our moldy
leggings waving on banisters above pale flood lines.
We retire to back rooms lined in red velvet, dust
fine as beignet sugar. Something pulses and persists.
The smell of brass trickles off the street, into our shoes.
We dance because we have known joy and chaos,
because the dead are restless stamping on stone
in crowded crypts, because clogged estuaries
moan from colossal friction, because vampires
exist in the many ways our flesh desires flesh.
We prance like horses ridden by Loa and riddled
with mysteries, past dalliances marked by sliding lips
and twin-backed mountains of gumbo gyrations
and crab-louse étouffée, the itch of ages. We storm
imaginary bastions and fling our wet banners about;
for beads and special considerations—drunk on Spanish
fly—our shirts rise from our torsos; the French Quarter
overrun with plague, frogs, zombie politicians;
the boiling swamp cauldron distended and the river sledge
pumping potions of bone meal and chemical runoff
out through the gulf’s hips. We quit playing and look
lovingly at what we’ve hauled up. And abandon it.
There’s a rhythm beyond the dirges, beyond the low
crooning here. Beyond mistresses’ dark whispers, the chains
of suns unbroken by bars and whips. Beyond the watery
lust of the moon and our matching winks. Beyond quiet.