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Poets’ Guide to America

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What would happen if poets conquered America? The answer to this question lies in a clever collection of poems that maps of the United States. Co-written by Pushcart Prize nominees John F. Buckley and Martin Ott, Poets’ Guide to America is a whimsical introduction to subcultures across the country.

Buckley and Ott give us some of their revelations in the poem, If Poets Had Conquered America. Had bards taken over the land:

They would have landed
on shores expanding freely with verse, each
tongue a new state, forgotten zeppelins
tethered to clouds. The first winter would be
the easiest, inaugurated by an impromptu salon,
voices teeming with game and fresh rhymes.

The co-authors’ musings in this poem serve as a prelude to what you will find in the rest of the book. While free verse scales the Rocky Mountains and navigates the Puerto Rican desert, the poets also give a nod to traditional forms in pieces such as Pantoum in Pittsburgh and Ghazal in Georgia. Even within the constraints of form, Buckley and Ott manipulate language in comical ways and have an exceptional knack for word play. These poems are designed to please our auditory senses–just read this pair of lines from Sestina in Seattle: Espresso rapids strew the bully base/across palates where paddle wails of grunge.

On this unique expedition, Buckley and Ott hone in on highly specific sets of details. Through their keen perspective, landmarks as heavily trafficked as the Las Vegas strip become anything but cliché. They bypass the big welcome sign that thousands of tourists take pictures of, and they focus their lens on all 8,000 fish at the Mermaid Lounge. With each stop on Buckley and Ott’s itinerary, readers get their stanza’s worth of sights and sounds.

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.     -J.M.

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