No Grave Can Hold My Body Down

Aaron McCullough. Ahsahta (SPD, dist.), $17.50 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-934103-22-7
Folk and blues quotations, appalled quips, environmental protest, charismatic Christian vision, and ecstatic litany mingle in this often exciting if somewhat disorganized book-length sequence from McCullough (Little Ease). Each of McCullough’s sections takes its title from a track on the avant-folk guitarist John Fahey’s 1971 album America, and the eclectic, almost omnivorous feel of McCullough’s language recalls Fahey too: “all we want and don’t want of us/ is in the singing,” one page says. Other pages, however, want much more: an end to polluting with hydrocarbon dyes, for example (“harmful if swallowed/ flammable/ folderol/ thiazole”), and a 21st-century replacement for the afterlife: “what gospel blues meaning good news gone bad/ without the benefit of fantasies/ of heaven.” Haunted lists (“a cage of carbon/ a cage of saxophones/ a cage of tagged fish”) introduce quotes from Thoreau and others, in pages whose Southern accents belie their ambition to address the whole U.S. Though the quick cuts of verse lines keep the music going, some of McCullough’s best moments occur in prose: “Because doing something is always a resurrection, things tend to be done poorly. Driving a car feels like driving a person who is driving a car.” McCullough seeks a grassroots update to the late-modernist projects of Olson and Pound. Some readers may feel that McCullough repeats himself, or that his vaunting fragments do not hold together—but some readers feel the same way about the nation. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
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