Living in a Red State Blues

Anyone can bang on a piano, but there’s a melody in Douglass’ anger. There’s surprise. There’s light. A few times, he is even almost smiling. And if he feels soul-less without his father, just as America is becoming soul-less in a red hat, he fights for life and living all the more tougher. For him, the music that crashes out of the piano is “dirty. aged. ragged / but no less vibrant / than the rhythm / of your own / aberrant heart.” ~Barrett Warner, editor Free State Review

As anticipated from the title, these poems explore the sharp divisions within our country. But they go deeper – in language, in metaphor, and into a keen examination of how family and community shape us: “my own son could roll by in the opposite / direction and neither of us might know, / both focused on our own destinations, both / loaded down with our own baggage,” Douglass writes. “Red,” as theme, becomes a main character, a continuing thread through these poems. Red is metaphor, persona, color, symbol, and ultimately part of our collective mythology. The red state is both state of mind and state as geography. These poems are not rants – though there is one – but a discerning look at how we have all contributed to the divide that exists in our country in the 21st century. “We’re all so full of shit,” one poem declares, bringing the collective “us” into that community where we are all responsible for our divisions. We may not all be “in this together,” as white privilege, socioeconomic and political divisions offer separate realities, but we are all experiencing the effects of these deep divisions. So, come take a ride through the humor, pathos, heartbreak, and ultimately redemption that these poems offer. ~Pat Riviere-Seel

In a Post-Truth society, where sedition and insurrection are considered by the GOP as legitimate political discourse, and alternate facts and fake news are what they label any reality or scientific theory that is critical of their strategies and constituents, then Poetry has to be the cleansing agent that removes the dust of the everyday from our eyes. M. Scott Douglass’ new collection is a counterweight to the endless lies and reductive naming that passes as political discourse in contemporary America. In poem after poem he builds informative sentences that seek to dispel the blur of willful ignorance and push back against the perfect storm of cognitive degradation that allows con artists to prey on those citizens whose personal discernment amid the white noise feeds their posture of selfish communion with their fellow citizens, where the traditional ideas of patriotism and democratic thinking have been traded for personal convenience and expediency. Living in a Red State Blues is an antidote to the sophisticated propaganda machines like Fox News and Breitbart that have helped to foment the tribalism and reductive fear that are creating the schisms and conspiracies that are dividing the once United States into two distinct countries. The loss of the Fourth Estate and the rise of advocacy journalism are piled upon the fact that the average American college student or office worker cannot deeply focus on a task for more than three minutes, whose heads are stuck in echo chambers that reinforce their prejudice and inadequacy. In “The Color of Fraud,” Douglass begins: “We live messy lives out here” and posits that the fact of the matter is that common ground is a myth in our present culture, and as he rides his motorcycle across this nation’s states, both blue and red, he is an authentic and arresting witness knowing that Red sees any opposing viewpoint “as another oppressive threat to his sense of exceptionalism.” This is a book for its age, and it gives no quarter. I’ve read no other collection of poetry so intensely felt and spontaneously delivered. “I am the ghost of the storm that they would rather forget,” Douglass writes, and between these covers he tells the truth and looks directly at the camera as he does so, the narrator who needs no third wall between he and his audience, confident in the raw strength of his message. ~Keith Flynn, author of The Skin of Meaning and editor of The Asheville Poetry Review