an on-line poetry magazine
for the 21st century

WINTER 2021-22

 

BOOK REVIEWS

I MURDERED ELVIS
Michael Rothenberg
(Alien Buddha Press 2020)

Michael Rothenberg explores the mysterious essentials of the uniquely American phenomenon called Nashville in a compact, yet discursive journal-like collection of fragmentary experiences. His ‘journal-form’ poetry is in full blossom in this collection, a burgeoning of conversations, observations, distractions, one-liners, and everything you’d think of in a book set in the capital of American country music as pedal string guitars, ten-gallon hats, Tony Lamas custom-tooled boots, name-dropping nobodies and blue tortilla chips. And of course a rich cast of characters wise to ‘the biz’– the all-American Entertainment Vampires, working for the industry.

How do you get attention in Nashville? Murder Elvis, says Cousin Margo.

In fact the book is divided into three sections – the 23-page Nashville saga comes first, followed by ‘An Interview With an Entertainment Industry Vampire,’ and 26 page section journaling a cross-country from California to Florida. That second section provides perspective on the Nashville theme, much less so the cross-country journal.

Be that as it may, the opening saga, I Murdered Elvis, well repays the reader for his or her attentions. After all, there are so many little murders and strangulations, so many strangulated bones to dig up in a dog-eat-dog town like Nashville, that a patient and persistently observant poet like Rothenberg has no trouble delivering a trove of richly delicious (if chaotic) moments to his reader.

Not to say that the speaker in the poem is a passive observer – Rothenberg casts himself as an agent provocateur, ‘a spy in the house of the King of No-Music,’ trying to wake imagination from the American tree by inserting himself into the scene, learn the ins and outs of the trade, and become a songwriter.

This is high voyeurism and a ton of fun to read. David Meltzer calls I MURDERED ELVIS an epic poem, a traveler’s tale; a realistic fantastic how-to text and cri de Coeur; an ever-ready Horatio Alger upbeat downbeat.

Meltzer’s got it right.