The Air in the Air Behind It
*Winner of the 2020 Berkshire Prize*
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.”
“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.”
“[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.”
"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."
- 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.”
“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