The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 21, 2008

Sleeping It Off In Rapid City (Part 3)

Awardskleinzahler2 And here, for your Monday morning, is the last section Maureen McLane's essay on August Kleinzahler's new selected poetry collection, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City. (You can find more information about Maureen McLane here--her poetry collection Same Life will be released by FSG in September.) Part 1 can be found here, and part 2 here.

I am going to want to sit with his stunning title poem for a long while. I don’t think I’ve read a more vertiginous, powerful take on US myth-history in a long while. “Sleeping It Off in Rapid City”: this is some world-historical hangover! AK plunks us down in “the exact dead center of America,” and diagnoses (or gives an autopsy of) the current condition of “the dead solid center of the universe/At the heart of the heart of America.”  Even to put it this way abuses the poem, since AK doesn’t write poems announcing their “about-ness” (“here is my poem about the state of the nation; here is my poem about X, about Y):  but with its layering of and cutting between geologic time, Oglala myth, General Custer’s writings, Mt Rushmore, Kevin Costner, historical monuments, stripmall culture, the “heritage” industry, and the question of what might be “sanctified ground/Here, yes, here,” this poem sounds out a ramifying homage to and critique of what he satirically, but not only satirically (as I hear it), calls “this great land.” “God bless America/We’re right on top of it, baby…on a great slab of Mesozoic rock.”

I could go on and on, but one art these poems embody is the art of knowing when to stop.

--Maureen McLane   

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