Winner, 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize
Narcissus Americana sings and scraps and wrestles its way across various landscapes—abandoned quarries, art museums, lavish homes, and tar pits—in a quest to attain a more complex vision of what it means to be upwardly mobile.
These poems question the usefulness of wealth and ownership as markers of success. Taking wine fridges and fake flowers as emblems of capitalism’s failure to assuage human loneliness, the speakers in these poems find joy in shared meals and glasses of wine, and use moments of mutual attention to challenge notions of class in America. Intimacy is on display in “Cruising Altitude,” where the speaker finds a sublime communion between two disparate worldviews during an in-flight conversation with his father:
I ask if his certainty about humanity’s course gives
his life some kind of purpose. He doesn’t sleep well.
I know this. I quote Yeats. He quotes scripture.
Light balances on the wing and casts its yellow spell. . . .
Sharply written, and with an eye for form, these poems engage with heavy inquiry but also know better than to take themselves too seriously, making it possible for, say, dungeons to share space with donuts, as in the poem “Rancho La Brea.”
Mossotti’s timely book invites the reader to traverse America, and see the nation anew, on a journey marked simultaneously by critical scrutiny and deep affection.
“Travis Mossotti is one of a thriving group of American poets writing these days whose work exposes the mendacity of those who cite ‘difficulty’ as an excuse for not reading poetry.”
“Travis Mossotti has settled into his maturity, bringing to his work an awareness that only comes with a sense of history both great and small, from the lessons of Machiavelli to the lessons we learn when someone our age dies. Of the many fine poems here, a favorite is ‘Joint with Christine at a Tool Concert,’ in which the poet treats a prison-bound meth addict with the love and insight we all deserve.”
—David Kirby, author of Get Up, Please
“With clear-eyed intelligence, Narcissus Americana surveys the unfolding American disaster: ecological damage ‘too late for healing,’ desperate hypocrisies, and overextended credit of the powerful and powerless alike . . . and in the ironic space between what we want and what we get, Mossotti discovers resources we can use right now: dark laughter and resolute tenderness.”
—Devin Johnston, author of Far-Fetched
“Narcissus Americana makes legible and lyrical the flown-over eros of the heartland son who inherits the dreams of uncharted newness, who destines a newness of himself, who turns to face a hardened plain not unlike Lauren Berlant’s ‘cruel optimism.’”
—Justin Phillip Reed, author of Indecency and A History of Flamboyance
“In these poems—incantatory, tender, macho, heartbroken, funny, gorgeous, wild—Travis Mossotti gives us the true American field guide to America. And like the flower of the title that bursts up in late winter, reminding us that the world’s not ending (at least not just yet), he offers us something that feels a lot like hope.”
—Stefene Russell, Culture Editor, St. Louis Magazine