George Washington

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George Washington: Poems

W. W. Norton / Liveright
September 2016

George Washington is a collection that explores personal loss and consumer memory against the backdrop of the 1990's inside the American suburbs. Its cultural history swerves from the faded iconography of the Founding Father to the ubiquitous father-son romance of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Drawing upon the mass-produced images and products of the poet’s own childhood in New Jersey, these poems recreate the absurd world of school shootings and strip malls, cyber sexuality and video games, franchises and chain outlets. The myth of the American family has exploded into the shrapnel of consumer nostalgia: debris that includes Nintendo and Super Mario, VHS and the VCR, Twin Peaks and The Oregon Trail. Amidst this onrush of celebrities and memes, however, is a lyrical concentration of elegies and love songs strong enough to confront America’s violent history within the 'white noise' of modern life.

 

REVIEWS

“George Washington,” his second book, barrels forward with a confidence that marks him as a young poet — he is 32 — to be reckoned with. He piles on plenty of imagery that captures America (largely the New Jersey of his childhood) as a dreary name-brandy shopping mall, but impeccable comic timing prevents him from drifting too far into the Debbie Downer zone. Some of his opening lines are deadpan jewels — part Frank O’Hara, part Tig Notaro. “Unlike my older brother, I generally enjoyed the nineties,” he writes in “Here Comes the Hotstepper.” “A world of Netscape, chat rooms and Fruit by the Foot.” ... As the book’s title makes plain, Mr. Fitzgerald wants us to do a little rethinking when it comes to founding fathers and their legacies. To that end we find a prose poem called “Leaves of Grass,” in which Mr. Fitzgerald’s viewpoint is more blank-toned and Warholian than expansive and Whitmanic: “Walt Whitman Shops formerly known as Walt Whitman Mall is a commercial center located in South Huntington, New York, on Route 110. The shopping plaza, just down the road from the poet’s birthplace, is currently undergoing large-scale renovations.” In “Vader in Love,” another mythic patriarch gets a makeover: “Meanwhile Vader’s in love again. Queer figure. Broadway Wagner. The dark side as narcissistic embrace, machismo’s paroxysm.”

—Jeff Gordinier, The New York Times

 

In contrast to The Late Parade, in which he seems drawn to appropriating from literary texts, here he is open to using the kind of junk you find on the Internet: advertising notices; chat rooms full of disgruntled, angry idiots; an app that will make a list out of any information you feed it (Walt Whitman on LSD); trivia quizzes and game shows; blogs by hypochondriacs, conspiracy theorists, and experts on love or animals or nutrition (take your pick)... More than collaging together different forms of language – which is pretty much what computer speak has become – Fitzgerald is attuned to the nuances of anger, frustration, know-it-all pronouncements, cockamamie summations, come-ons and call-outs. The language of everyday life might be tired, recycled, shrill, familiar, deranged, creepy, and cliché, but that doesn’t deter Fitzgerald. He is determined to make it, if not new, at least unexpected. To his credit, he doesn’t try to be charming or lovable, nor does he dwell on traumas as if he were the only one who has experienced them. This isn’t the latest manifestation of confessional poetry, animated by the all-knowing, all-suffering, deeply sensitive “I.” 

—John Yau, Hyperallergic

 

Adam Fitzgerald's poetry in George Washington: Poems (Liveright) comes across as playful while exploring the concept of Americana and what that means. He discusses wanting his poems to capture specific periods of his life by listing obsolete pop-culture objects from his past. The result is poem as time capsule, as opposed to what many think poetry is supposed to be – abstract and timeless. 

—Michael Silverblatt, KCRW's Bookworm

 

And if Fitzgerald’s debut was a parade, then his follow-up is a more like a funeral march, though a kind of jazz funeral, because Fitzgerald remains exuberant even at his most morose. Starting with the first line of the first poem in the book—“After my family died there was a replacement family”—the poet possesses a keen awareness of mortality. Loss has enriched his poetics, bestowing his lines with greater depth and gravity. But any mournfulness is also infused with amusement: “Jurassic Park comes back / Star Warscomes back / The Clintons and Bushes come back / But you do not come back.” A mature, resonant, triumphant collection of wistful elegies and whimsical love poems, George Washington proves that Fitzgerald is one of the most brilliantly multifaceted poets writing today. Bookforum recently sat down with him to discuss, among other things, suburbia, mall culture, poetry after queer theory, TV reruns, sex, and death.

—Zachary Pace, Bookforum

 

When Rimbaud sent Verlaine a few poems, Verlaine wrote back, "Come, dear great soul. We await you." If poet Adam Fitzgerald contacted Verlaine, Verlaine might leave the wise voicemail message, "Stay, dear great soul, stay in your suburban sprawl." That's no slight to the extraordinarily gifted Fitzgerald, who, in his second volume of poetry, George Washington (Liveright), manages to create vast, heroic, Whitman-esque verse out of the toy chests, spam folders, shopping malls, and 24-hour cable of our American youth. So masterfully does Fitzgerald blend jarring acoustical pairings ("wacky khakis," "aluminum meadows"), hilariously banal pop cameos (the Oregon Trail video game), and heartbreaking revelations ("before long, replacement you lounges with replacement them on a green sofa that is a fine forgery of itself") that he effectively invents his own rich, monumental landscape from the recycling bins of cultural debris. Fitzgerald proved he was a poet to watch with his first book. Now he's a poet to follow.

—Christopher Bollen, Interview Magazine

 

George Washington, Adam Fitzgerald’s anticipated new collection, journeys with confident speed past the moment of inception for any given poem. Whoever—father or lover—died happened outside the frame of these virtuosic poems. A fury of lists, names, places, from literary figures to TV stations, replaces biography and becomes experience. The graveyard is now the Courtyard Marriot. Elegy is buried inside the days and despite all that reappears, “You don't’ come back… We welcome them without you.” These exponentially expansive poems formally hold their grief at a distance between Mary Mother of God and The Empire Strikes Back.  This is stunning poetry.

—Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen: An American Lyric

 

This book is a major crossing, the poet steps lightly on loads of tingly crap like the apocalyptically organized photos of Andreas Gursky or Hart Crane’s intentionality in a whole new place. No one understands postmodernity better than Jersey boy prelate Adam Fitzgerald who stands tall and grounded as a poet of heart, and excess: cries visionary Madonna tears without irony because the monuments on his riverbanks though toxic and hallucinatory now weep fortitude; even prayer.

—Eileen Myles, author of Chelsea Girls

 

The cadences in George Washington are meticulously, rigorously controlled. The energy comes from the conflict between the shining wit, the wry observation, the gorgeous phrasing and the need to remain rooted, true, tactful and in the American grain. On display we find a most interesting sensibility—troubled, amused, laconic, playful—plus a poet in possession of a very serious gift.

—Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn

 

If there are no ideas but in things, Fitzgerald’s “things” have gotten out of hand: trademarked, shrink-wrapped, mass-produced, including memory itself, which has become a market-engineered, instantly retrievable “thing” called nostalgia. Fitzgerald voraciously returns to the 90’s, when there was just enough technology and everyone hung out at the mall and America had a budget surplus before its precipitous decline. George Washington is as lurid as a neon Trapper Keeper, relentless and completely frightening; an astonishing read.

Cathy Park Hong, author of Engine Empire