The poems in National Anthem, the fourth collection of poetry from critically-acclaimed poet and critic Kevin Prufer, are finely-studied short films about America in the 21st century. Set in an apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic world that is disturbing because it is uncannily familiar, National Anthem chronicles the aftermath of the failure of imperial vision. Allowing Rome and America to bleed into one another, Prufer masterfully weaves the threads of history into an anthem that is as intimate as it is far-reaching.
“Sometimes, I can hear the nation speak through the accumulation of the suburbs,” writes Prufer, and his ear is well-tuned to listen, because it is the individual experience that he attends to: the life of the dead soldier, the ring on the finger of a girl killed in a flood, the writing of love notes while the empire collapses. He is a candid guide through bombed streets and shopping centers that call “give me, give me.” Amid corpses and conflagrations, he finds what, if it isn’t hope, is resilience enough.
“Anyone with doubts about the place of politics in poetry should have this book thrust in his hands. Prufer (Fallen from a Chariot) makes the political personal and the personal political, all in the service of sinuous, moving free verse. He has a rare gift for bringing the inanimate to life on the page. The American West becomes a drifter on a raft, his chest ‘brown and flecked with hair,’ and the title poem begins with a shopping center calling out like a lover. Elsewhere, ancient Rome, its empire in slow, steady decline, is found ‘curled on a pew, asleep,’ a haunting parallel for contemporary America. Poetry—a possible source of salvation?—is a boy locked in a car’s trunk, screaming and refusing to die. And there are people in these poems, too: a speaker who writes love notes he describes as ’empty and vaguely/ sad.’ Dead children, soldiers and those left behind in an evacuation speak and are spoken about. An absurdly large parachute falls over a suburb, and the speaker writes letters to his lover while trying to find his way out from under it. Near the end of the book, Prufer writes, ‘I don’t know what to do/ with the doomed, the chilled over and gone,/ but drink until my fingers become twigs.’ This powerful collection, Prufer’s fourth, is an ongoing elegy for a dark time in American history.” – Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Kevin Prufer has courage and compassion. And he places words so beautiful and accurate and terrifying along a line you can’t help but read to the end…” – Marie Howe