The Air in the Air Behind It
*Winner of the 2020 Berkshire Prize*
Coming September 1st, 2022
The Air in the Air Behind It reveals an elusive eco-consciousness of our strangely ordinary world, a world inhabited by science, sex, turbines, missing children, and woolly mammoths. The poems collapse and reconstruct themselves, dwelling in what cannot be pinned down: time, evolution, love, the feeling of being watched. Tuned into the turbulence of its age, Rushton’s debut reaches through the fog not to arrive at clarity, but to become more mystified. Here language creates a climate all its own, one that registers the cycles, as Karla Kelsey calls them, “of coming into one existence and passing into another.”
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