Mark Neely

Paper $15.95
(ISBN 978-0932440-49-5)

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Robin Behn called Mark Neely's first collection (Beasts of the Hill, winner of the 2011 FIELD Poetry Prize) "nothing less than a mandala of the human spirit." Now, in Dirty Bomb, his formidable talents take on a wider and more public dimension.

This book of poems explores life in 21st-century America, particularly the juxtaposition of intimate human relationships with the politics and violence of U.S. militarism, terrorism, and the threat of environmental apocalypse. Oil tankers leak, atrocities play out across the internet, "the present / always drags the past into the future." Yet Neely's piercing intelligence and dry wit keep the poems light on their feet and unexpected in their perceptions. Angry, baffled, moon-drunk, and visionary, these poems chart the promise and the danger of America in fresh and memorable ways.

"Open these pages and listen in on the twenty-first century: beheadings on the internet and sleeper cells in Jersey, old girlfriends with their Facebook posts of triumph, forced plane change in Atlanta, no matter the place you imagined you wanted to go. 'Pine trees shivering // like addicts on the mountain.' So how to explain the rush of joy and consolation these brilliant, savvy poems afford? To be sure, sheer mindfulness—and there's mindfulness in abundance here—is a comfort in an age of oblivion and denial. And the music is terrific: Mark Neely has a very fine ear. But something larger is at stake as well, something about the noticing that makes it matter: I can find no better name for it than heart. Open these pages. Take heart."
Linda Gregerson

"These poems move along a semi-fragmentary path from the present state of national affairs to the near past—let's call it the last days of the Reagan Era. What has happened to American culture in those 30 gilded years? What has happened to the human soul? As Dante proved, sometimes a poet needs to wander the provinces of Hell to find the truth. Mark Neely has done some powerful wandering. This is a searing and necessary book of poetry."
Maurice Manning

"If James Wright had grown up listening to R.E.M. and watching 'Twin Peaks,' he might have written the gorgeously disappointed and disturbingly glorious poems in Mark Neely's Dirty Bomb. Neely renders contemporary America from the inside out. And while this rendering begins in collective nightmare, there’s redemption enough in Neely's humor, his sheer inventiveness, and the deep sympathy with which he treats his subjects. Poems such as 'A woman in Dior,' 'I step away from the oil fires,' and 'Tonight I am kicking down the doors' are built to last, and they will."
Peter Campion


Each year gave us portals

each year gave us portals
dark tufts
fought their way

out of the mudhole
a storm washed
gray over

the mountain horses
fled the hillside
the grocery store baker

pulled up smoking
in the funeral-black
back parking lot

some days the ferry
burned he slit huge sacks
of flour with his knife

and poured them
in a big steel mixer
I only have the stomach

for beginnings
the spirit moving
on the face of the waters

the 767 leaning west
a belly full of gasoline
the morning

the firmament dry
land great whale
the word


The Last Romantics

It's not funny anymore. He grunts
like a shaggy bear
when she turns him over in the sun
and ribs him with a playful
finger, or bides her time
plucking out his stiff gray hairs.

The boys he’s fending off are slight
and hairless like exotic pets—their skins
are taut as snares. When they dance they dance
on ecstasy and glisten—he has fantasies
of gutting them like clueless salmon.
His books are from another century.

She loves to read to him. She needs
to be on top. She's always running
out for cigarettes. He hasn't smoked in years,
except in dreams he wakes from in a panic. He runs
on treadmills now, takes a yoga class. It's still
a tragedy when she puts on her dress.


After a football game

after a football game
the rollicking stars came out
and shaggy boys sat in the windows
of passing cars as if there’d been a coup.

I met up with a woman in a rowdy bar
she was going through a divorce
making sure she did it right
like a stock car going through

a retaining wall
sun-tired and hardly
talking we watched the dancing
students skew the beauty scale

she ran her hands through new
red streaks in her blonde hair
watching highlights on the angled
screen above the bar

our running back
lying face up on the field
a trainer holding both sides of
his helmet like a crystal ball


Copyright © 2015 by Mark Neely. May not be reproduced without permission.

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