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The Air in the Air Behind It



*Winner of the Berkshire Prize*

*Winner of the Independent  Publishers Book Award Gold  Medal*

*Finalist for the Foreword Reviews   Poetry Book of the Year*

*Finalist for the National Poetry  Series*

*Finalist for the Jake Adam York  Prize*

*An American Association of  Geographers New Book for  Geographers*

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Published September 1st, 2022



“[Rushton’s The Air in the Air Behind It] is a book of desolations, written in a distinctly millennial voice. Clear-eyed, etched, and hard as granite, these poems catalog a kaleidoscopic array of characters adrift in a postmodern world that seems leached of myth and meaning. […] The voice and craft of the poems is fresh, startling, and assured. The line breaks and formal choices deftly create a multifaceted prism of readings into each line, milking the pleasures of double entendre and creating a kind of sleight-of-hand, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, dizzying effect to many of the poems. There is a subtle, dark humor and subdued pathos as the speaker of these poems chronicles a world that has lost its way. The book is artfully assembled, circling around repeating images, characters, and themes of dissolution and disillusion. […] The only wonder left in this landscape is a kind of stunned bewilderment at the predicament we find ourselves in and perhaps a certain marvelous strangeness the way horror may come near to breathless awe. Overall, we the readers, and we the people, are left to make of it all what we will, this motley assortment of lives and moments collaged together in a sped-up array. […] There is a persistent, hollow, echoic ringing through these poems, a lostness that has given up on being found […] And yet, in the end, there is poetry, the making of something out of all of this. The recording, selecting, crafting, assembling that, in itself, attests to some enduring impulse, perhaps in the air behind the air.”

                                                                                     - Maxima Kahn, Colorado Review

"Rushton’s scenes are panoramic, a master of the short line scene, he moves in the space of one poem from metaphor to image and back again so many times the poem takes up a musical feeling of meaning via rhythm rather than linearity or narrative.  Often, each poem will hold dozens of micro narratives that run into and up against one another. What makes Rushton’s voice so arresting and unique is that he seamlessly connects disparate, but equally striking, images similar to a visual collage. [...] For a poetry so steeped in location [a] feeling of alienation pervades this book. A feeling that these images of landscapes shaped and defined by work could exist almost anywhere in contemporary America. Rushton, a native of Michigan, seems preoccupied with images of the de-industrialized midwest. Writing scenes that  take place not only within the foreground of economic ruin but give voice to a population often left behind in contemporary poetry, the working class. The contradiction of emotion and the variety of characters portray a humanity that feels familiarly flawed and relatable. Indeed, that sense of dislocation makes these poems feel like so much more than just catastrophe portraiture. Rushton uses the poem as a location device both within place and language. Creating a tension between these two poles that comes together around that sense of alienation. These are poems that, perhaps, do not give us answers but show us how to ask better questions."

                                                                                          - Gabriel Costello, Meridian 

The Air in the Air Behind It by Brandon Rushton, winner of The Berkshire Prize […] is a thought-provoking, richly sonic architecture of poems. In Rushton’s book, the theme of liminality sits squarely on the interface between the betwixt and between borders of human states and – for that reason – allows the reader to address some of the critical issues of our times […] Throughout the book, the reader is accompanied by a rich sonic structure and, as the lines progress, the narrative seems to use echolocation, to sense what is around […] This space “in-between” – the idea that there is Air in The Air Behind It – is also represented in the zeugmas, chiasmus, anacoluthon, and enjambments […] used by the poet to construct his lines. Now, that the book […] has been published by Tupelo Press, and partakes in the partial obfuscation of the self, we can certainly say that its poetry runs through delight.” 

                                                                      - Regina Colonia-Willner, The Compulsive Reader

"Brandon Rushton's The Air in the Air Behind It hunts down the modern dread caught between big, zoomed out Earth-level views of humanity and the face-to-face carrying on of life's daily tedium and obligation [...] Seeing Rushton capture these shifty, elusive feelings and snapshots with the right poetic timing to reconcile everything is thrilling. Poems here are so smartly guided by meticulous attention to metrical detail. Lines build and build at a forward-rushing clip, rarely stopping to settle in to take a breath. The syntax of the standard sentence holds everything together like scaffolding while at the same time we're presented with beautifully ornate, dense interwoven thickets of images frequently overlaid on top of one another -- one image's end might be the way forward into the next. The overall effect is one of startling momentum.

                                                                                            - Zach Mueller, Jasper Magazine

“[Rushton] is determined to diagnose America’s endemic bafflement. He is a chronicler of deconstruction. His poetry encompasses the millennial generation’s distress about the century’s disembodied geography, the pretension of stability and security amid the reality of profound disruption. Never mean-spirited, Rushton’s pursuit is to see everything anew with eyebrows-raised, and often with the lip-curling disappointment of people his age.”

                                                                                         - Keith Schneider, 

"The Air in the Air Behind It is […] filled with long, sprawling epic verse that roams and spins, walls of text that read like cracked mirrors with thick, tightly representative descriptions careening and splitting. Enjambment leads to surprise and revelation. Rushton’s forms feel familiar and simple, but feed upon themselves, grow and unlock exquisite social portraits and comment on phenomena. […] While the poet is not afraid to bring in his speakers, which often feel autobiographical, the book also affords some distance, reading like something between a news article and a biography. Still, the focus on collapse and broken systems follows a popular lineage in Western Literature, including the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, George Orwell at its most calm and complacent, and Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, and Steven King at its most hyperbolic. The Air in the Air Behind It is also reminiscent of contemporary poets like CA Conrad and Sandra Simonds, whose comments on place are often incising and occasionally scathing."


                                                                                   - Greg Bem, North of Oxford

"Form and diction play a significant role in this book. The poems sing in the mouth through the liberal use of alliteration and striking images […] Whether describing something ordinary or bleak, the language captures the imagination of the reader and carries us forward […] In some cases, the poems shift the direction of the eye with every complete sentence, whether written in indented tercets or in block stanzas. That mobility keeps the reader off-kilter, thus experiencing the very point of the poems. The variations to the poetic form also keep the reader engaged. Line breaks are masterfully done and call attention to the relationships between words, and to the images they create. Long run-on stanzas without punctuation, create a sense of rushing toward oblivion, yet force the reader to slow down to gain understanding. […] This collection unsettles the reader. Its musical language and close attention to daily life is used with finesse to successfully bring the disequilibrium of our world into full view. One cannot look away."

                                                                                        - Margaret Kean, Tupelo Quarterly 


"While Rushton gives name and shape to seemingly minuscule commonplace daily activities, one has to also be ready to navigate the unfamiliar contrasting territories that are somehow both beautiful and frightening.[…] Even in the calmest lines, Rushton continuously pulls the orderly rug out from under his reader, keeping them cascading into skinny short lined poems, or losing themselves in sprawling prose poems.[…] At first, a poem’s darker theme and tone stand out, but then subsequent readings reveal the work's lighter gauzy words and layers. Rushton is an expert of enjambment with dizzying turns of phrase and nuance that is concurrently succinct and poignant, yet feels effortless on the part of the poet.[…] This is a book that needs multiple readings to discover and digest all that Rushton shares."

                                                                                       - Shannon Vare Christine, Lit Pub

“Rushton’s book captures the way modern life feels, and to its credit, never becomes an argument against that life. Rushton’s unflinching images depict our present-day assaults and dread of the future. He catalogs like a scientist, and many of his poems invoke science and technology. […] Rushton’s unique ability to find a pulse within mechanistic modernity is on display in poem after poem. He can conjure the mechanical without awkwardness. He can conjure life without sentimentality. The results are poems that are frank and cleansing. […]  This commitment to the truth of our predicament would make for hard reading, were not Rushton so skilled at two techniques: syntax in counterpoint to the line; and structural rigor.”

                                                                                        - Dana Delibovi, Cable Street

“A much anticipated event […] Rushton’s collection speaks to the energy and emptiness of ordinary life, using language both foreign and familiar.”


                                                                                       - Hub City Writers Project 



“Rushton’s The Air in the Air Behind It explores natural transmutability in a series of sketches of the contemporary rural American landscape.”

                                                                                        - Ann Arbor Observer

Advance Praise for The Air in the Air Behind It

"It is an ordinary, an orderly world offered to us in The Air in the Air Behind It, and yet this world surprises at every turn, and it throbs with mystifying energy. Every statement made threatens to dissolve into its opposite, every movement is a threat and a thrilling treat. The structure of most of these poems is of the sentence—while line breaks signal giddying turns, turns of phrase and fable both surprising and satisfying: “Boredom makes me want/ to spill a secret to each bipedal/ organism passing/ on the street. I have a heavy heart…” and even this does not describe the compulsions of the book, or the way the language gets restrung like a glittery necklace broken with beads still lost under some of the furniture. Even up and down are unstrung, directions both comforting and treacherous: “the sky called/ attention to the crater the people pointed/ and watched the comet from.” This is a book of consolations, open and inviting and yet as mysterious as fog, and as nurturing to a parched landscape." 


                                                                         - Bin Ramke, judge's citation


"With an eye roving like a documentary camera, Brandon Rushton delivers a post-wonder diorama of the contemporary non-urban United States in which the vaunted American lawn is artificial; the food is full of chemicals; and “what haven’t we / homogenized.” The freedom of childhood and adolescence are figured here as a kind of lost, damaged paradise before everyone erases themselves into their adult roles: the contractor, the customer, the detective, the pilot, the bank teller, the embezzler, the broker, the milkshake maker. Rushton’s often interweaving lines serve as a formal objective correlative for our interwoven state in this world, which is composed of both the given and the made; the question of why on earth we have chosen what we have made is quietly fuming in every poem. “Honestly, the people / had hoped for more space / to feel spectacular,” Rushton writes. The news about that spectacular feeling isn’t good, but knowing Rushton is out there watching, giving a damn, and writing his beautiful poems is reason for hope."


                                                                  - Donna Stonecipher

"This is a book of water. Of weather. Of a voice languaging thought through a line, a stanza, a page. Space. Through modes of being human—temporary stoppages of energy called “father,” “daughter,” “lover,” “commuter,” “scientist,” “cashier.” On micro and macro scales these poems register cycles of coming into one existence and passing into another: “A widower on a highway west/ of here faces the idea that his lover, is now, just particles/ his headlights pass through.” Even massive things are permeable and subject to transformation: “The land splits open and the street/ of cars slides single-filed, straight in.” Brandon Rushton’s The Air in the Air Behind It understands, and leads us to understand, we are bound to each other, and to this earth, because all is change. This is a book that holds such truths, necessary to weathering our time."   

                                                                           - Karla Kelsey 

“In The Air in the Air Behind It, Brandon Rushton’s poems are wild ranging examinations of the untenable present and the unknowable future. They brim with ideas in a sonic rush—so full of vitality and the resilience required to rally the spirit inside a personal reckoning against the backdrop of collective resignation. Rushton writes, “I came dangerously close to some / partition, some fog I can’t stop / my want to fit inside. In a rush // of mountainous air, I mistake me / for myself again.” These exhilarating poems embrace possibilities worth hoping for, even in a world that’s over-stimulated and disappointing; gracefully, they make room for the light to get in and fill the empty spaces.”

                                                                  - Allison Titus

In The Air in the Air Behind It, Brandon Rushton has miraculously mapped a poetics of human geology. Here is a meteorology of how “we call forth our breath from the passing /cloud.” Absurd, witty, sad, reverent, irreverent, profound, this work partakes in a “partial obfuscation of the self” to enact a kind of omnipresence. From here, Rushton traces how humanity’s daily moments accumulate and simultaneously transform, disperse, decay, as if molded by wind and water and tectonic forces: “Radiant and splitting apart/ like polar ice, the days pull toward us then melt / away.” This profound debut will change your very processes of thinking.

                                                                          - Arra Lynn Ross







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