Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Patriot by Laurie Saurborn Young

5 Aug

patriot coverPatriot

Laurie Saurborn Young

Forklift, Ink.

32 pages, $5

I carried this chapbook around America with me for two weeks, the whole time unread in its entirety. First to Akron, Ohio. Later to Atlanta, Georgia. Okay okay, I read a “Patriot” or two while waiting on my hosts to wake up, or drinking a beer on a stranger’s porch (you see, each poem, thirteen in all, is called that, “Patriot,” is made of 26 stretch-breathing lines). Then I returned home, to Indiana, to Elwood, my hometown. I returned to the porch staring into my grandpa’s cornfield. The corn was much taller than when I left. Why does that surprise me? I read all twelve poems straight up. Then, I paused to feed the goats in the background. Then, I read the poems again.

*

I find myself repeating myself, the part about the goats, the part about the corn, the part about my hometown, the part about traveling but never moving.

*

This poem sequence travels through time and space and place—years ago or a night-damp field or cold Wyoming.

It repeats some variation of the phrase “is America.”

“This is America, & so the body, hand-sewn, is over there.”

“Someone always in the process of taking over/With orange beak angled wide is America.”

“Bioluminescence of the highway at night/What is America?”

*

According to Merriam-Webster, a patriot is “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.”

*

When I searched “American patriot,” the first search result is a company of the same name that wants to rent me a cabin in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee mountains.

See also: the American Patriot Party official web site, whose platform is set firmly on the ideal to “protect, defend and implement the intents set forth in the Originating Founders Letters which includes The Absolute Rights of the Colonists of 1772 and the Declaration of Independence, the documents which define Freedom.”

See also: this eagle picture

eagle

See also: the Lee Greenwood album of the same name.

See also: this picture of a kneeling soldier.

american_patriot

*

As I read these poems over and over, I kept thinking about decisions. Decisions we make. Decisions we make for others. Decisions we make for ourselves. See also: decisions that are made for us.

What to do with these physical bodies—to sing or not, to leave or not, to build or not, to undress or not. Paved roads and strip clubs. Foxes done got ran over and the ability to dance. Jail sentences and linebreaks.

*

The first poem unfurls like one of those familiar American landscapes:

Line of thunderstorms on the weather map.

This is America, & so the body, hand-sewn, is over there.

And so at dawn the Carolina water tower is a peach

Rising like the moon’s ass.

Finite town, rusted trailer, time-bleached house.

How many foxes did we take under our wheels?

What we decided to build. What we decided to let decay. What we decided to end just by starting our engines. Though, this is not a poem about a particular place. It’s a poem about how the place imposes on us, and more aggressively and more accurately, how we push back.

*

Is there such a thing as New Patriotism?

The old connotation of patriot implies “unconditionally,” but of course, there’s a flaw in that, and of course, as we evolve, as a nation, as a people, should/might the definition widen, the way our moral landscape has (okay okay, maybe should/might, or maybe just has partially)? Instead, these poems suggest a negotiation between supporting the country’s interests and peering more closely (as a single dot on a big ass map) at what is necessary, the truth about what does good and what does harm, how (parts of) this place got so shitty in the first place.

See also: racial injustice (continued).

See also: the (real) effects of what we put in our bodies.

See also: who has control of our bodies?

*

Last week, I drove to Atlanta for the Vouched 2nd birthday party. Skirting my way through Kentucky and Tennessee and a bit into Georgia, right, I saw deer in the distance and dense, rising mountains of green and gorgeous rivers. From my car on the road cutting those mountains, the trees dotted with billboards.

*

“Fallen are so many dead/Deer along the American highway.”

*

For the drive to Atlanta, I made a playlist called “America.” Here it is:

“A Horse With No Name” by America           “Living Room” by Native America

“Rock and Roll Roosters” by Trout Fishing In America         “White America” by Eminem

“Shameless” by This Is Not America      “30,000 LBS.” by My America is Watching Tigers Die

“Only In America” by Brooks and Dunn        “Made In America” by Jay-Z

“Miss America” by J. Cole       “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America

“Breakfast in America” by Supertramp                       “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde

“Living in America” by James Brown      “USA I, II, III, and IV” by Dan Deacon

“America Fuck Yeah” and “Freedom Isn’t Free” by Trey Parker

“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith     “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen

“Small Town” by John Mellencamp    “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus

“God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood    “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie

“This Land is Your Land” by Sharon Jones     “Living in the Promiseland” by Willie Nelson

“Saddam a Go-Go” by Gwar               “Universal Soldier” by Donovan

“Riding With Private Malone” by David Ball  “With God on our Side” by Bob Dylan

“Proud to be an American” by Tiki     “Born Country” by Alabama

“Where The Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” by Aaron Tippin

“My Country Tis of Thee” by Crosby & Nash             “American Bad Ass” by Kid Rock

“American History X” by ILL Bill       “Freedom” by Rage Against The Machine

“Americans” by X-Clan           “Freedom of Speech” by Immortal Technique

“Announcing the Death of Osama Bin Laden” by Barack Obama

“Get Up” by The Coup           “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy

*

When one criticizes America, you name the McDonalds and the Wal-Marts, the Zimmermans and Madoffs. When the intent is to praise, we sing of the buffalo and the mountains, the prairies and the fireworks in the sky.

Often, we forget, downplay, evade, and/or ignore the everyday ills and evils of this country—domestic grief, the ridiculous heartbreak (personal, political, and social), etc. Often, we forget the everyday triumphs—the real kind of joy of flexing the luxury muscle of play, the feeling of putting knowledge in one’s head, etc.

These poems exist in that everyday, the good/bad/ugly, both celebratory and critical. On (for?) grand schemes, they make few choices. The fire burns here not to light up the sky or destroy what’s on the ground. These poems craft as they go a sense of living, having lived, the naming as a startling mechanism to remind just how much there is here, right here, hello.

*

An incomplete list of proper nouns in this chapbook: Tennessee, The Mouse’s Ear (a strip club), the Tire Barn, Morrissey, Mt. Katahdin (in Maine), Wyoming, Snuffer’s Restaurant and Bar, the Seventies, Abigail Adams, Spain.

*

Though the fire is local in its intentions, these poems do burn loud, do make their decisions known. Like when one brings you this declaration, this tiny tinny list of what America is:

Forever men taking a break with grease

Under their nails is America.

Is the close-captioned word You little

Bitch on the gym TV and is the dull

Line of women on treadmills

Running steady toward the phrase.

*

While in Atlanta, I received an email response from a friend who I had sent a poem of mine called “A Natural American Spirit,” which I finished on the 4th of July. She said, “I love how your poems are getting more and more American.”

*

What is an American poem? Is this book called Patriot, this sequence of poems each called “Patriot,” a collection of American poems? The self as American, making decisions, the freedom (or supposed freedom) to do so—write poems, be a person continually, make fire. There’s democracy in the personal, voters (a tiny collection of the selves), history’s calling and how one handles it.

*

This speaker (Patriot?) returns to moments that shape women, that shape of the woman telling this American story:

“By the pond where my sister and I fed/Ducks in the summer, where we ran/From the tall honking goose.”

“Somewhere I am eighteen and somewhere I still/Plan to get drunk & pass out then suddenly/Awake nearly twenty years later to find/You still means Men in the audience.”

“Somewhere it is 1930 & my aunt is the first/Woman to wear pants in Holmes County.”

*

What it means to be a woman in America—opportunities, beauty, and abuse, unrelenting being alive:

Upside down her ribcage is a butterfly.

Or

Mother in the airplane aisle, rocking your son:

I love you without envy yet still reaching

Outward and away from one another we persist.

Or

You want to say I deserved it

Which is often what people think

When force is brought against a woman’s

Smaller frame.

*

Saurborn Young sings a song in the last poem: “This is America/Irreplaceable and yet/Unnecessary and yet loved.” And then, turns that phrase, the repeated “is America,” into “is this America, still debating/Whether as a woman whether I am worth.”

*

And I applaud Saurborn Young here, the way I am startled and moved. Writing about America. Writing about being a woman. Writing about being a woman in American. The clusterfuck of emotions and the automatic eyebrow raises. There’s a powerful beauty in making these declarations. And on the other side of that road, there’s a sparkle when she asks that gulp of a question.

Who’s over there with her with that question? Who’s catching it? In the hands or in the gut or in the mouth?

*

“Population booming we are not unique/Everyone scratching in place.”

*

These are poems of ultimately what we are—“People everywhere are just people everywhere/Tearing down what we replenish.” Our breath feeding the plants, our hands replanting trees, the cages we built re-opened to release the eagle back to the wild, what we birth.

This all after we’ve chopped and taken and ran over whatever we’ve wanted.

*

Ultimately, what will we be judged on? Possibly, how we treat those that birthed us, clothed us, rescued us, though right now we’re worried about how fast she can bring us our pizza.

*

“We are mammals, mammals are animals/So consciousness is a trait of animals/In the hospital at midnight or noon.”

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7 Responses to “Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Patriot by Laurie Saurborn Young”

  1. amhoffa89 August 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    I began reading this review in the morning and stopped soon after, with very little intention of coming back to it. When a few things seemed to direct me here throughout the day, I decided to read it more thoroughly and found I couldn’t not comment on this.

    I am all for artistic expression and reviews that vary somewhat from the standard format. But, no matter the format, the one thing all reviews should have in common is this: a focus on the author and the author’s work. I thought Tyler had some great points in here, and some lines like “I applaud Saurborn Young here, the way I am startled and moved. Writing about America. Writing about being a woman. Writing about being a woman in American” made me want to read the book and see what it’s all about.

    But the reason for my comment here is that, despite the success of the author to interest me in the book, I found I had to be interested in spite of this review, and not because of this review. Don’t give me a few (often un-introduced) quotes from the book and many self-indulgent lines about your playlists and how much your friends enjoy your own poems.

    You seemed to genuinely enjoy the book, which is great. It just seems to me that all reviewers should check his (or her) ego a bit and make it about the author.

    • Carrie Lorig August 10, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Personal spots of mold, personal bleeding is the only reason I enjoy reading reviews. It’s important to say things about the book, OF COURSE, but it’s also important to treat reading like an intense, personal experience. Because the containment of that situation is what, in the end, gifts a book a multitudinous life. A review that respects that only ensures further proliferation. What book or piece of flesh writer would want to be treated like a lab rat? I find that distilling a book is more of an egotistical act than attempting to expand it, to invite more expansion.

      I don’t mean to push buttons. I react to this /converse with this because this trajectory of thinking, born pallid and weak within the Academy (where I spend and love my time) and within those who are concerned with being “right,” is exactly why so few writers write reviews or feel that they deserve the opportunity to do so. We all deserve to show how we survive reading in any intellectual, pulsing way we choose and have practiced at.

      • Alysha August 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

        Carrie,

        I am glad someone responded to this because I had hoped my comment wouldn’t have to sit awkwardly alone without discourse. There are a couple of things I should clear up: I have read many reviews that discuss one’s “intense, personal experience” of reading the book, and I agree wholeheartedly that such things should be included in the review. Throwing your love of a book, of an experience, out into the world is vulnerable and lacks quite a bit of ego. In my opinion anyway. Where this review chafed was where it meandered away from reading experience and wandered off into other lands.

        Perhaps it’s just my “pallid and weak” thinking talking here, but I didn’t connect the dots between playlists, abstract thoughts about life, his friends loving his poems, and what he had read. Again–this is my opinion on what I thought the review was doing. I had less concern over being “right” and more concern with how this review failed me.

        I certainly would never want to discourage someone from writing a review–but I hardly think wanting an author to connect each of his thoughts to the book and his experiences makes me some Academy drone discouraging all nonconformist authors, as you seem to believe.

  2. Tyler Gobble August 12, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Thx, thx a lot, you folks, for yr spirited responses. Carrie, there’s so much that feels necessary packed into those two bitty paragraphs. I agree whole-hattedly. And amhoffa89 (whom I do believe is a gal I went to Ball State with, but the Internet likes to induce mistakenness uh huh), thx for yr insight. Reactions like yrs certainly are useful to keep me reevaluating my modes and mechanisms.

    But I do feel a big swell of affection for this piece (feel shifty calling a review–varies FAR as you say from tradition–but others will and yes ma’am that’s mighty good), so here’s gonna come a response (though Carrie’s is what’d I’d hope to say if I had such a good working vibe to give).

    I have the world’s largest army surplus store of respect for more traditional reviewers, but hey, that’s not how I operate or process a book. Folks like Mr. Ware right here in the Vouched lagoon or the crew The Collagist wrangles each month. I just took my hat off for them.

    But my shake as a “reviewer” and Voucher and reader and human being in general is to wave my hands and point (LOOK AT THIS LOOKIE LOOK), aka the weirdest cheerleader. I do this by working through my experience, filtering my reading experience, instead of distilling the book.

    You obviously disagree, but I do declare this whole thing is abt Patriot. But more importantly also because of and after and impossible without this awesome chapbook. The way I interacted with the world (and AMERICA and poems ETC ETC) after reading this book was glittered anew because of Patriot. Just because the piece doesn’t blow everywhere breath in the shape of the thing, doesn’t mean every huff is dotted with its particles.

    Kept thinking of this: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20422

    Thx for the compliments. You came back, engaged, and evidently wanna read the book (even though I of course can’t credit for all that). That’s enough for me.

    I sit in the new heat of Austin hoping only youll see the things you take issue with aren’t egotistical after all (though certainly self-indulgent, why else would anyone write at all?). Though not what you prefer or how you write, this piece is an example (and one I’m quite proud of) of how I read poems, how I filter that experience, how the story of reading them unfolds. No intention of pulling the big lens to me (why I didn’t unpack the playlist or poem reference/let you unpack) but trying to zoom out wide enough to show Patriot and me shaking out asses together.

    Thx so much, both of you, for reading and responding. This is a good chat. I hope you’re happy.

    • Alysha August 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      Tyler,

      I am the girl you went to BSU with, yes. It didn’t post my name on my original comment, even though I asked it to. Some trick of the system I guess? Anyway…

      I seem to have confused both you and Carrie at some point because both of you seem dead-set on calling me (and believing I am) a traditionalist. This is funny because I am far from it. As an example, I am currently in the process of writing a memoir that writes out film stills, and incorporates the concepts of Picssso’s cubism and lost memory. There is no “traditional” way to write this book, trust me. I have also read and celebrated non-traditional authors before. Ander Monson is one example.

      I say these things only to dispel this idea. I am all for non-traditional reviews, as I stated in my original comment. Unfortunately branding me doesn’t immiedately make all of my critisism go away, filed under a box labeled “what the Academy thinks and why it is wrong.”

      You call yourself a “cheerleader” for the book. Well, I agree that all reviewers should be cheerleaders, getting me exited about the book. But I just could not connect lists of nouns in the book, as an example, with how you felt about the book and why I should read it. Your style of cheerleading made no sense to me. I’m not asking you to be a conformist, I’m asking you to not confirm in an intelligent way. If, as you said, the way you interacted with the world was changed because of this book then show me that while making it clear it’s because of the book.

      I don’t disagree with what you say you were trying to do, I’m just saying I can’t find those connections within the review you wrote. And maybe other people do. You can’t win them all when it comes to writing, but I hope you will at least take what I’m saying to heart, rather than dismiss it because you think I am trying to fit you into a box.

      • Tyler Gobble August 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

        Just to be clear, I don’t think either of us were trying to pigeon hole you as a traditionalist, as anything at all. Of course, I can’t speak for her, but from reading her comment a dozen times (a very wonderful rewarding comment it is), she seems to be reacting to the realm of thinking yr viewpoints come from. Whether you want to admit it or not, yr expectations of what a review is and what one should do are traditional, regardless of how/what you personally write. Based on yr comments and grievances, it’s rooted in distilling and unpacking and certain modes of intellectual connecting. And that’s cool. Whatever you need as a reader/thinker(and writer/reviewer). No one is dissing yr personal aesthetic on this airwave, just responding to the viewpoints you put out.

        And to be clear (a typo in my original comment fuzzed this a bit), I wouldn’t call this a review, personally. A response is probably more accurate.

        I appreciate both of yr gals’ insight on this matter. It seems we will be divided on who I can entertain/help. And that’s cool.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Poem Club: On Retirement | Taxi Dog Blues - August 8, 2013

    […] Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Patriot by Laurie Saurborn Young (vouchedbooks.com) […]

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