A review of


by Ander Monson

Central question: Can a good enough song keep your dead friends from fading away?
Format: 96 pp., paperback; Size: 6" x 9"; Price: $16.95; Publisher: Tupelo; Print run: 5,000; Book designer: William Kuch; Editor: Jeffrey Levine; Typeface: Shannon; Number of poems whose title include the word “elegy”: 17; Things elegized which begin with the letter “l”: luggage, “loose buoys,” lake ice, lighthouses, “a litter of letters pouring through the door,” “a list of names on lined paper,” fishing lures, liquor, Lawrence Welk, Liz; Representative sentence: “I guess this is where I enter grief, / with a hand on a salt lick / and reeking of beer they don’t / even make anymore.”

Ander Monson grew up in remote, grim northern Michigan and (if we trust the poems) lost at least two of his closest friends before they had finished high school. Or, if you prefer: Ander Monson has breathed life into a fictive northern Michigan townscape where two teenagers have died in an auto accident before finishing high school, and a third narrates poems about them. The loss of Jesse, a childhood friend and partner in misdemeanors, and “Liz, my X, my axe to break the freeze” dominate the book, which consists mostly of careening, bristly laments for them and for the half-gutted mining and forestry towns whose ghostly half-lives as resorts provide the book’s title: “This is my vacationland, my very own / Misery Bay, my dredge, my lighthouses, my vanishing / animal tracks in snow.” In Monson’s northern Michigan, death is just “the other Canada.” As for the survivors, “We are what is left. We drift. / I guess this is a sort of manifesto.”

This manifesto encompasses plenty of complaint—there’s not enough money and not enough to do. Monson kicks against “awful playlists and shitty DJs” on album-rock radio and “coin-op beds that vibrate in the Budget Inn.” But the poems also celebrate defiant excess. In this land of scarcity, right living involves using up what you have, whenever you have it; otherwise someone might wreck, steal, or use it and you might not get any more. This rule applies to parties, trucks, and emotional commitments—a carpe diem for obscure doomed youth. Monson’s elegies stack up realist-novel (or even YA) detail, but their method of stacking shows an exuberant anger and a comfort in disconnection that marks the poems as contemporary. Uncommitted to storylines, the speaker lets language go where it will, even when it leaves him out on the ice.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt’s new book of poems is Parallel Play (Graywolf Press). He supports the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.

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