The Star-Spangled Banner
The Star-Spangled Banner spans the 15-year arc from 9/11 to 11/9, concluding with a poem based on voices overheard the night of Trump's election by poet Michael Ruby, a journalist who has covered U.S. politics for decades. Ruby began the book in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when he saw people freely using U.S. national symbols for their own political purposes. He decided to do the same thing for poetic purposes. Every poem in the book, which is dedicated to Jasper Johns and Jimi Hendrix, uses the 81 words of the national anthem and inserts words into the spaces between them. The poems have different vocabularies—sometimes surrealist like Ruby's related book, American Songbook (2013), sometimes documentary and personal like his trilogy Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (2012). The Star-Spangled Banner is an artistic encounter with one of America's leading national symbols, using the frame of Francis Scott Key's War of 1812 lyrics in unexpected ways, and an unusual verbal and emotional portrait of the time from 9/11 to 11/9.
ADVANCE PRAISE for The Star-Spangled Banner
Michael Ruby’s The Star-Spangled Banner bravely demonstrates how history and politics infuse the quotidian. Throughout this innovative collection, Ruby disrupts the nation’s political discourse by reclaiming the words of our national anthem in ways neither Francis Scott Key nor any contemporary politician ever could have imagined. In this bold experiment in contemporary poetics, Ruby charts our country's trajectory from 9/11 to the 2016 election: a true American tragedy and failure. By collaging both poetic and political lineages, Ruby redefines the possibilities of documentary poetry to take on the urgent difficulties of our times.
Michael Ruby has written a spangled and wild critique of American exceptionalism and made it into his own gleaming anthem for our moment, in this way reminding us that we can renovate our broken mythos into a song for oneself but with the knowledge that out of the one, many, many left behind, suffering abjections beyond anthem and national identity. Formally astute and rhythmically alive these sequences hold their nerve and deliver a gut punch.
Brooklyn of ample poetry was mine. (Props to Walt Whitman.) Looking west, wandering the waterfront below the Bridge, I’m often whacked by the legacy of my borough’s place in American poetry. Michael Ruby also looks west from Brooklyn as he riffs on America’s national anthem. Striating the text, like the design of the stripes on the banner itself, he inserts his own observations and literary/historical musings on America between the hymn’s words. Structurally, one is impelled to ask, are these sanctified words constraints like prison bars, or hand holds provided to climb ever higher on? One is confronted with an eternal American question: Why must freedom be the opposite of perfection?
--Loren Munk (aka James Kalm)
[following design] Michael Ruby e x p l o r e s P o e t r y.