Less River, More Rust by Brian S. Ellis

Editor Carrie Ivy, Poetry, April 17th, 2014

That fragile sense of universe that makes reading the poems feel like an event...

american barricade by danniel schoonebeek review by brian ellis

Less River, More Rust: A Review of Danniel Schoonebeek‘s American Barricade, reviewed by Brian S. Ellis

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The danger, I would think, in evoking the spirit of Frank Stanford in your writing, is to invite suicide into your life. Danniel Schoonebeek not only invites this spectre of death, he shouts at it. He bullies it the only way one can bully a machine. Driving a car past the time the odometer returns to zero.

American Barricade, Schoonebeek’s new collection of poetry, is a serious contribution to American poetry. I finished about a week and a half ago, and I keep picking it up, expecting there to be more poems in it. It has that kind of draw, that kind of well. Schoonebeek accomplishes the elusive balance many seek: to emulate our artistic antecedents’ without imitating them. Mayakovsky makes an appearance (that’s a suicide double-dare) but it’s mostly Stanford I hear. Schoonebeek has crafted his own voice from these cues, has generated his own mythology. Stanford was from the south and Schoonebeek is palpably not. Less river, more rust. More factory, more chains. In some respects Schoonebeek has improved on Stanford’s style. The poems Stanford wrote before The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You always felt fragmentary, sketches, signposts leading to the greater work. The greatest strength of American Barricade is that each piece stands so strongly on its own. I get a sense of a complete world from each piece, that fragile sense of universe that makes reading the poems feel like an event, a trial. When putting together a book of poems there is always the question of which piece will be first. Each poem in this book is the first poem. Even the opening of Part Three “Lullaby (Coup)” qualifies. This is one of the most dangerous pieces in the book. It threatens to come off as an experiment, to pull us out of the brackish yankee marsh we’ve been steeping in for seventy pages. But instead of an experiment, it turns into an artifact. It’s a family tree.

Bruce Springsteen is hiding in these pages too, somewhere, in hints and traces. I would bet good money, up to Five Dollars, that Schoonebeek was listening to the album Nebraska a lot while writing this. Nebraska has a thread running through it that American Barricade shares, and it’s a sense of location. Location is a quality that is almost impossible to fake, and it’s a quality that some of the most powerful works of art vibrate with. Schoonebeek has made location American Barricade’s spine.

While the book is drenched in this sense of location, it utterly lacks any sense of time. The absence of time gives the collection a haunted quality, simultaneously in this antiquated past while remaining in our dystopian present, bouncing the feeling back and forth without needing a resolution. In doing so, Schoonebeek has hit upon an aesthetic very much of our current era: the hazy, cough syrup electric americana of now.

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brian s ellis nailed magazine poet contributorBrian Stephen Ellis was born in Manchester, NH and currently lives in Portland, OR. He is the author of three collections of poetry; Uncontrolled Experiments In Freedom, Yesterday Won’t Goodbye, and American Dust Revisited.


Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.