William Trowbridge’s Put This On, Please: New and Selected Poems contains work from all five of his full collections, as well as a group of new poems. In lines that capture the rhythms of everyday speech (with the ghost of meter haunting closely along), Trowbridge follows misfits and outcasts whose ramblings and shamblings reflect our own well-meaning gropes for fulfillment. These reader-friendly poems draw often from classic films and other elements of popular culturefrom Buster Keaton to Chuck Berry, from King Kong to Wile E. Coyote. Trowbridge is not squeamish about exploring the darker side of humanity, as seen in poems about the Kiss of Death delivered by Michael Corleone in The Godfather II or about Nebraska mass murderer Charles Starkweather. Capping off the book, a group of new poems takes a fresh look at old themes, sounding deepened notes of both melancholy and celebration. Throughout this seriocomic account of human foibles, vices, and wonders, Trowbridge makes a strong case for laughter as the only appropriate response to our post-post-modern condition.
Plunging head first into the colorful waters of popular culture, William Trowbridge manages to find there are ways to reiterate some of the basic stuff of lyric poetry. His gathered poems combine pointed social criticism with just plain verbal fun.
William Trowbridge’s has been a life lived in poetry. It seems to emanate from him like a pine scent from the forest. And how wonderful to have these poems all together, to experience the range of subjects—from the Frog Prince to old movies to boogie-boarding in the California surf. The breadth of tone and style is equally impressive, as the wry meets the elegiac or the subtleties of rhyme and meter salute the adventurous vers libre. Here’s a book to relish and return to.
Nance Van Winkel
For the present commentator, the work of William Trowbridge across the past three decades, centering on deep Midwestern experience and encounters with mass media, has been cause for celebration, one of the best things about American poetry. He brings unwavering receptivity and artistic control to the rhythms and tonalities of American experience, and his transmutations of that control into language are incontestably and wonderfully his own. His new-and-selected Put This On, Please — “this” being a hospital gown — does nothing to change that. The book is another American triumph for this marvelous writer.
A new and selected offers a chance to track a poet’s development, and in ˆ we see how Trowbridge has evolved into a significant and rare source of levity and irony combined with gravity … As mortals of a capricious god, we need this book. Sure to win Trowbridge new readers and more accolades, Put This On, Please offers the carapace of comic relief against what we know of fear and cannot understand.
Each poem invites us to walk with Trowbridge down the dangerous path of the seriocomic, where we encounter a series of stunning tonal shifts and masterful manipulations of of psychic distance. The beauty of this work is enhanced by sincerity and empathy. Trowbridge’s technical and emotional gifts create a bond of trust with readers, making us want to move with him and bear witness as he exposes our human desires for tame, recognition, acceptance, and love.
To say that Trowbridge is serious and funny — a seriocomic poet — is to risk suggesting that these poems are only kinda funny and sorta serious. These poems, however, are as humorous and entertaining as anything you’ll find in a comedy routine, and they manage to be deeply serious, never flinching when the joke’s delivered with a left hook. For no good reason, we have been taught to separate intellectual inquiry from humor, as though somehow purifying the former from the latter … But the best humor, as in Trowbridge’s work, bulges with laughter and philosophical gravity, often helping us laugh at our own clumsy superiorities.
Put This On, Please
Cut from dime-store cotton,
fastened from behind
at the neck, designed
for easy access
to your nakedness,
it’s issued in exchange
for your clothes and valuables,
when they’ve checked if you
can pay, the trick to tying it
their little secret.
It may sport stripes or flowers,
though most are plain
as winding sheets. If soiled,
it can be cleaned or simply
tossed, your robe
for the mute choir that haunts
the halls, wheeling its tubes
and I.V.s, or tosses in sleep
or just stares dully, draped
in this chilly birthright.
first published in 5am
We Real Old
The Canasta Players:
Seven at Autumn’s Gold
We real old. We
sing thin. We
shake Schwinn. We
first published in New Letters
Cursed by the broganed gods who govern tools,
my father turned Laocoon with power cords
and garden hoses, Blind Pew with drills
and hammers. Screws talked back, nails went
rubbery, saws turned piraña. He’d sweat,
fumble, curse his way through the gauntlet
of “Directions,” jamming a half-inch bolt
in the hole for a quarter-inch dowel, joining Tab A
to Extension N, skipping the ambiguous
Step 5a. “God damn it,” he’d declare
to the unresponsive skies; “lousy son of a bitch,”
he’d save for our electric mower, whose cord
he’d sever every other turn. A combat vet
with two Bronze Stars, he soldiered on
till the day he bought the canister of “Gro-Brite,”
advertised to turn your lawn “lush
as the greens at Pebble Beach.” An I.E.D.
in his uncertain grip, it worked by pumping air
to force the liquid out the nozzle. He took
the contents in the face, the metal lid
grazing an ear. There was no talk at dinner,
only the A.C. chuckling under the window.
first published in Plume