University of Arkansas Press

ISBN: 978-1-55728-586-7

In Flickers, William Trowbridge explores the fascination Americans have with movies, how “flicks” allow us to temporarily forget our problems and, ironically, to forget that real conflicts are what make us human. The language he uses is the American language of pop culture: sports talk, movie talk, shoptalk, and clichés—all are blended together into carefully crafted lines that are uniquely Trowbridge’s. Readers will be delighted to follow each poem to its effectively understated end.

These poems are dark comedies that capture both the eerie and the ordinary. This balance is not easily achieved, but like a veteran comedian executing a pratfall, Trowbridge makes it all seem natural. His surreal family, the Glads, satirizes life in suburbia and reflects the often absurd margins of our urban lifestyle. By contrast, a group of poems revolving around a packing house in Kansas City (Trowbridge worked there as a young man), reminds us of those darker places in our lives that exist just “across the street from the ledgers and lapels.”

The variety of subjects Trowbridge works with is refreshing. Whether he is writing about Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, June bugs, baseball, the holocaust, Cadillacs, or old dogs, his eye is always focused on the turn of phrase that will catch us off guard. His well-crafted lines are full of wit and humor. He approaches his subjects like Coyote approaches Fox—smiling, ready to expose his dear friend to the reality of his existence through sleight of hand. And, like Coyote, he teaches us to laugh at ourselves or perish under the weight of our everyday lives.

What to say? Flickers marks a new stage in Trowbridge’s already impressive oeuvre — introducing elements of the confessional and of realism. Like all of our best poets, William Trowbridge has not stood still. He has continued to improve.

Jonathan Holden

Prairie Schooner

The thing I admire most about your work is its ability to combine a light touch, including sometimes laugh-out-loud humor, with “heavy” content, even on subjects like the holocaust. The combination makes both aspects more effective. Would that I were able to combine the two so effectively.

Harvey Hix

There is a wonderful Talmudic saying that goes something like this: Man thinks; God laughs. Within the broad compass of that adage lies the central truth of our humanity. In Flickers, William Trowbridge has reconciled those two extremes — a general invitation for all of us to participate in the cosmic laughter.

Peter M. Ives

The Florida Review

Trowbridge has something close to the ideal balance between counting the streaks of the tulip and being chiefly conversant about general truth. He is much up on the peculiarities of our little time in the world. Howard Nemerov

Curtain Call

At last they stand together, flushed,
reborn, bathed in our applause: York,
Clarence, Ann, the little princes, and,
all self-effacing smiles, Richard himself,
gone straight as anyone, an actor like the rest,
who now hold hands with him, all as fresh
from mocking death as the magician’s helper
who leapt before us from the hilt-encrusted box
or our father, who, the time his corpse act
got too real for us, raised his head and grinned.
For a moment it seems he might be here,
on stage with the others, with our mother,
with a whole growing cast of those we loved
or didn’t, still in makeup and costume
to show the wounds, the sicknesses are void,
the years imaginary. We grin like fools,
smack our hands together till they sting.


The Kiss of Death

is a family kiss, blood to blood,
Michael Coreleone
gripping brother Fredo
by the chops
and planting a big one
to signify the ancient meaning:
“You’re fucking dead/
I love you,”
the original mixed message,
passed branch to branch
up the family weeping willow
since Cain and Absalom,

like the last kiss
I gave my father,
lightly on his forehead
as he lay gowned and diapered
in his last room, his skin
damp, his mind cornered
by something bad come round
to grill him every waking hour,

maybe by the dream I had,
where I finally threw a punch,
then kept it up till I snapped

or maybe by a dream he had
about his father, that mostly-
loving man he said would sometimes
flail him with a razor strop
–once till Grandma screamed —
and kiss him afterwards.
My father taught himself
to flail with words
and silences. His kisses stabbed.

“I love you, Dad,” I lied
to no one in particular before I left,
wiping off the blade,
meaning every

from Flickers