Shawn Pavey reviews “The Prettiest Girl at the Dance” by John Dorsey

 

 

John Dorsey Tells Us of Pretty Girls

By Shawn Pavey

 

 

Book Review: The Prettiest Girl at the Dance by John Dorsey

Blue Horse Press, ISBN-10 : 0578818787, ISBN-13 : 978-0578818788

 

Reviewing John Dorsey’s work is never an easy task. The greatest challenge comes in finding new things to say about his consistently exceptional poems that, over the last decade or so, come with more frequency and ferocity. Dorsey is a prolific poet. His previous collection to this one, Which Way to the River? by OAC Books weighed in at just under 500 pages and only collected four years of work. Yet Dorsey still manages to create, in each poem, a fresh revelation about being human in a world moving so fast that people spin off to collect in convenience store parking lots, truck stop diners, and low rent tenements. These are John Dorsey’s people.

 

The subject of each of the poems in this collection are women he’s met – waitresses, lovers, passing acquaintances, and dear friends. I know this because I know John. I’ve witnessed the events in at least one of these poems, met some of the characters from others. To be considered a friend of John’s is an honor and one I don’t take lightly. But as a reviewer, I must set that friendship aside to speak honestly about this book. That, in this case, is the easy part.

 

The Prettiest Girl at the Dance is some of Dorsey’s best work to date. Victor Clevenger’s insightful foreword to this book makes the same assertion. It is a bold thing for either of us to say, but Dorsey’s legion of readers will most likely agree.

 

Let’s look at The Prettiest Girl in Austin, Texas:

 

claims to have the best ass
in the city

a perfect apple shape
for roaming hipster bars

this town used to be so cool

now she has to drink malt liquor
out of an empty bag
in an empty field

just to stay ahead
of the curve

 

As I wrote in the foreword to Dorsey’s 2019 collection, Your Daughter’s Country (also from Blue Horse Press) if one finds one’s self the subject of a John Dorsey poem, he loves you. But it doesn’t mean one is free from a little good-natured teasing. The subject of the poem above laments how “cool” only lasts long enough to be recognized. Once “cool” is overrun by “common,” we are, quite literally, sent to new pastures to find the thing we lost once everybody else found out about it.

 

Readers new to Dorsey’s work and longtime fans will delight in how much weight each of these poems carry in so few lines. There are only two poems in this collection that run longer than a page and none longer than a page and a half. Dorsey makes his verbs do the heavy lifting. His modifiers are sparse and absolutely necessary to paint his images. His use of imagery is damned near alchemical as he creates tiny little worlds where the reader and the subject interact. In The Prettiest Girl in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dorsey writes:

 

had red hair & kind eyes
& wore a backless sundress
in the middle of february

she had a mind as big
as the milky way

& freckles all over her body
that kept me from writing
anything

 

It is in the small details where we see Dorsey paint vast canvases with a fine-tipped brush: sundresses, freckles, red hair – these are the words that create the thumbnail sketch that he fleshes out throughout this brief poem. Freckles become the Milky Way, all of the details combine to create a person that affects the poet so deeply that he cannot do the thing that defines him.

 

Another distinctive characteristic in these poems is that many contain a structural hinge, much like a traditional sonnet. While Dorsey rarely writes structured verse, he’s studied it plenty. Take  The Prettiest Girl in Fisherman’s Wharf, for example:

 

places her hand on my shoulder     
to keep my absent-minded legs
from stepping in front
of an oncoming streetcar

her fingers long and cool
like the summer breeze
remind me that I don’t die yet
want to die alone
or take the form
of a dying bird

i want to love her
just long enough
for a beer to get warm

just long enough
to mean it

 

In a mere 15 lines, Dorsey takes us from mindlessly walking down the street to recognizing an act of kindness to contemplating his own mortality to falling in love “just long enough / to mean it.” The hinge happens in the line space before the next to last stanza. The three lines prior take us out of the moment and into the poet’s contemplative spinning out to his eventual end and back again. But he changes direction in those last five lines. What can the poet offer in thanks? Love, adoration, if only for the briefest time.

 

One could argue that in the title of this book and in the title of each poem, using the diminutive “girls” does a disservice to the subjects of these poems. That is a valid point, on the surface. After reading these poems, however, it becomes evident that Dorsey’s use of the term “girl” is intentional to portray a sense of the innocence of beauty, kindness, and feminine vulnerability and strength.

 

Dorsey’s view of these characters is also unflinching. In The Prettiest Girl in Kansas City, Missouri, Dorsey concludes:

 

working as a museum security guard
where she stole loose bills
from the donation box

to buy enough whiskey
to put in the baby’s bottle
to help her make it
through the night.

 

This is an unflattering observation of somebody struggling to make it through the world the best she can with the tools available. Not all of Dorsey’s pretty girls are life-saving angels, their beauty might be hard for many of us to see. But John Dorsey sees beauty in everyone and that beauty permeates every single one of his poems.

 

The Prettiest Girl at the Dance is Dorsey at his best – telling entire stories with a handful of lines that are at once both intimate and universal. It is a quick read, but by no means light.

 

Shawn Pavey, February 12th, 2021

 

About the Author: Shawn Pavey is the author of Talking to Shadows (Main Street Rag Press, 2008), Nobody Steals the Towels From a Motel 6 (Spartan Press, 2015), and Survival Tips for the Pending Apocalypse (2019, Spartan Press) which was 1st runner up for the 2020 Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award.  He co-founded The Main Street Rag Literary Journal and served as an Associate Editor. His infrequently updated blog is at www.shawnpavey.com.

John Dorsey: “The Prettiest Girl in Byron, Missouri”

 

 

The Prettiest Girl in Byron, Missouri

hasn’t seen the sun in months
she sits cross legged in the rain
waiting for her turn to dance

scratching out the image
of a paper heart
in the mud

it’s the only way
she can remember
what her grandmother’s face
even looked like now

water rolls down her tin roof
in search of deliverance

overgrown weeds hiss in the wind
wrapping around her toes
like jump rope

squealing in an empty field.

 

 

John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017),Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019),Which Way to the River: Selected Poems 2016-2020 (OAC Books, 2020) and The Prettiest Girl at the Dance (Blue Horse Press, 2020. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize. He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

 

More By John Dorsey:

Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead

Punk Rock at 45

Perpetual Motion

 

Image Credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston “Port Tobacco Houses, Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland” (1936-1937) The Library of Congress.

Revisiting 2020: Our 50 Most Popular Posts of the Year

 

 

Dear As It Ought To Be Readers,

 

Despite everything 2020 threw at us, AIOTB Magazine was fortunate to receive so many brilliant poems, essays, interviews, and book reviews from writers around the world. Below, I have assembled the 50 most popular posts of the year based on the amount of hits they received. I know that few people will look back at 2020 with fondness, but maybe reviewing these posts from the year is a reminder of the resilience people have to continue to create in a crisis, and to channel the anxiety of the world into writing that connects us.

AIOTB Magazine was perhaps the only constant I had in 2020 that began and ended the year exactly the same, and completely intact. I have all of you contributors and readers to thank for that. Thanks for keeping me sane and connected to a community of writers when I most needed stability, creativity, and human connection in my life.

I have no idea what 2021 will look like, but if you keep reading and supporting each other’s work, you’ll at least have three new pieces a week on AIOTB Magazine to count on.

 

-Chase Dimock
Managing Editor

 

Poetry

Omobolanle Alashe:

Jason Baldinger:

Rusty Barnes:

Jean Biegun:

Victor Clevenger:

John Dorsey:

Ajah Henry Ekene:

Loisa Fenichell:

Jeff Hardin:

John Haugh:

Mike James:

Jennifer R. Lloyd:

John Macker:

Tessah Melamed:

THE NU PROFIT$ OF P/O/E/T/I/C DI$CHORD:

Hilary Otto:

Dan Overgaard:

Rob Plath:

Daniel Romo:

Diana Rosen:

Damian Rucci:

Leslie M. Rupracht:

Anna Saunders:

Sheila Saunders:

Alan Semerdjian:

Delora Sales Simbajon:

Nathanael Stolte:

Timothy Tarkelly

William Taylor Jr.:

Bunkong Tuon:

Peggy Turnbull:

Brian Chander Wiora:

 

 

Reviews

Chase Dimock:

Mike James:

Arthur Hoyle:

 

 

Interviews

Chase Dimock:

 

Nonfiction

Brian Connor:

Cody Sexton:

 

 

Micro Fiction

Meg Pokrass:

THE NU PROFIT$ OF P/O/E/T/I/C DI$CHORD

 

 

Some choice cuts from

The Ghosts of Our Words Will be Heroes in Hell,

the latest book project by

THE NU PROFIT$ OF P/O/E/T/I/C DI$CHORD

 

 

Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner!  /  Jason Ryberg

The wind is whipping up
little cyclones of dust and leaves
in the ditch by the side of Old 40 HWY,

and there’s a star-shine gleam
to the chrome ball-hitch
of the pick-up truck in front of me,

and there’s road-side fences to the future,
telephone poles to the past,

and the sun, like a cyclop’s murder-red eye
is climbing up from behind the horizon
and right into my driver’s-side
rear-view mirror,

and Walk, Don’t Run by the Ventures
is playing now on the radio

and there, above it all,
a lone falcon or hawk sits, calmly,
surveying its little fiefdom from the top
of a billboard sign that reads,

Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!

You got that right, pal.

 

 

When You’re Poor  /  Damian Rucci

when you’re poor
you’re always fucking
or fighting

always fucking because there
is never anything to do
but thrust & moan

when that’s done
then you’re fighting
fighting to keep the lights on

fighting to keep the bills paid
fighting to find change to do the laundry
& fighting with the landlord
about that fifty bucks
he’s still missing

but it could be worse
you could always be waiting again
waiting for the electricity company
to finally kill the lights

waiting for that check to hit
the mail box
waiting for the winds to blow
luck your way for once

 

 

The Finger Has Got to Come Off  /  John Dorsey

crazy mark crushes his finger
in the back of a dump truck

instead of going to the hospital
he examines the bone

each angle
like the rings on a tree

each crack
a ridge of undiscovered country

clues to a past
that even he can’t quite recall

weeks go by
and the skin
just won’t heal

he says he’ll have to
cut the meat off himself
before it starts to stink
like a dying animal
left to rot
in the woods.

 

 

Lost Man’s Candle / Victor Clevenger

standing at the end of a cold day
we think about how it is always here
in some form good for a glow
hanging from a rope
tied to a breeze

it’s a lost man’s candle
the moon

creating the dull between the trees
branch’s shadows like arms reaching out
for a waist to grasp in dance
& we’re near

but there is no melody left in our breath
tonight     & there is no whistle
from the lips of the wind either

just the random cries of wild animals
that we’ve all heard
a thousand times before

as we stood there like fools

too fucking stubborn
to just find

a good path back home

 

 

The Ghosts of Our Words Will Be Heroes in Hell is available from OAC Books, and can be ordered via spartanpresskc@gmail.com or by contacting any of the poets on Facebook.

 

 

About the Authors:

Jason Ryberg is the author of thirteen books of poetry, six screenplays, a few short stories, a box full of folders, notebooks and scraps of paper that could one day be  (loosely) construed as a novel, and, a couple of angry  letters to various magazine and newspaper editors. He is currently an artist-in-residence at both The Prospero Institute of Disquieted P/o/e/t/i/c/s and the Osage Arts Community, and is an editor and designer at Spartan Books. His latest collection of poems is Standing at the Intersection of Critical Mass and Event Horizon (Luchador Press, 2019). He lives part-time in Salina, KS with a rooster named  Little Red and a billygoat named Giuseppe and part-time somewhere in the Ozarks, near the Gasconade River, where there are also many strange and wonderful woodland critters.

Damian Rucci is a writer and author of five poetry books including his latest Don’t Call it a Relapse (Punk Provincial Press 2019), founder of the Poetry in the Port reading series, and was a Poet in Residence at the Osage Arts Community in Belle, Missouri. He can be contacted at @damianrucci on Twitter and damian.rucci@gmail.com

John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017) and Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize.He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

Victor Clevenger spends his days in a Madhouse and his nights writing poetry. Selected pieces of his work have appeared in print magazines and journals around the world. He is the author of several collections of poetry including Sandpaper Lovin’ (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2017), A Finger in the Hornets’ Nest (Red Flag Poetry, 2018), and Corned Beef Hash By Candlelight (Luchador Press, 2019). Together with American poet John Dorsey, they run River Dog.

John Dorsey: “Belle, Missouri, During the Pandemic on a Wednesday”

 

 

Belle, Missouri, During the Pandemic on a Wednesday 

here nothing has changed
everyone thinks we’re overreacting 
angry parents talk about the prom 
& missed school trips

young lovers have always died for pageantry 

but the truth is 
kids will still make babies 
in the back of parked cars without 
all of the ceremony

the news is a reminder that
the atomic bomb didn’t exist 
until we built it

someone says
if we can survive that
we’ll certainly 
get through this

with or without toilet paper.

 

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017) and Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize.He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

 

More By John Dorsey:

Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead

Punk Rock at 45

Perpetual Motion

 

Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “Jalopy that has seen better days” The Library of Congress. Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

John Dorsey: “Perpetual Motion”

 

Perpetual Motion

in the 1980’s 
everything was smooth sailing 
except 
drugs
aids
starvation
exploding space shuttles 
&
the threat of foreign wars 

we had miami vice
& a small hole 
peeking through the ozone layer
from all of those cans of hairspray 

everyone in the trailer park 
had a waterbed

our neighbors at the top of the hill
got their kids a chihuahua puppy for christmas

they would take turns tossing it
onto the bed 

watching the poor thing 
sway back & forth
like a drunken sailor

only a few weeks 
after bringing it home 
it slid right off the bed

snapping its neck 
without even a whimper

rubber ball still firmly in its mouth

as a child’s birthday party went on
in full swing in the next room

it was so quiet
that we thought 
it was playing a game

& then the youngest neighbor boy
started wailing  

as his brother approached the body 
with plastic army men
as if it was just some peaceful beast 
he had killed in battle

their father covered it up 
with a beach towel
as their mother asked us
who wanted cake

& somehow like magic
the decade was over
before it had even really 
gotten started.

 

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017) and Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

 

More By John Dorsey:

The Mark Twain Speech

Creatures of Our Better Nature

Picker

 

Image Credit: Marion Post Wolcott “Parked cars on private yard and trailer park sign where many workers from United Aircraft live in their own trailers. East Hartford, Connecticut”  (1941) The Library of Congress

 

 

Revisiting 2019: Our 50 Most Popular Posts of the Year

 

Dear As It Ought To Be Magazine Readers,

As we enter the next decade, I want to thank all of the writers and readers who have made our tenth year so successful. I take enormous pride in working with so many talented and inspiring writers. Without your brilliance and generosity of spirit and intellect, none of this would be possible. It has been a great privilege to publish your work on our site, and I hope to continue featuring diverse perspectives, challenging ideas, and unique voices for years to come. As a way to look back on what we accomplished in 2019, I have complied the 50 most popular posts of the year based on internet traffic and clicks.

Thank you again to everyone who wrote for, read, and promoted AIOTB Magazine in 2019. Let the 20s roar again!

Chase Dimock
Managing Editor

 

Poetry

Jason Baldinger:

Ishrat Bashir:

Jai Hamid Bashir:

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal:

Jeffrey Betcher:

Ace Boggess:

Daniel Crocker:

John Dorsey:

Ryan Quinn Flanagan:

Tony Gloeggler:

Nathan Graziano:

Cord Moreski:

Jeanette Powers:

Stephen Roger Powers:

Jonathan K. Rice:

Kevin Ridgeway:

Damian Rucci:

Anna Saunders:

Larry Smith:

Nick Soluri:

William Taylor Jr.:

Alice Teeter:

Tiffany Troy:

Bunkong Tuon:

Agnes Vojta:

Kory Wells:

Brian Chander Wiora:

Dameion Wagner:

 

Nonfiction

Daniel Crocker:

Nathan Graziano:

John Guzlowski:

Cody Sexton:

Carrie Thompson:

 

Reviews 

Chase Dimock:

Mike James:

 

Photo Credit: Fire Works At New Year’s Eve via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

John Dorsey: “Picker”

 

 

Picker

that’s what they called him
a finger buried deep in his nose
as a way to cope 
with a flabby stomach
& a face covered with so much acne
that it was about as baby soft
as the surface of mars

that was before everyone had anxiety
when ptsd was reserved for people with real problems
when kids threw lit matches at anyone
they couldn’t just burn at the stake 
when we ate pop rocks & pepsi
because we wanted to spontaneously combust
as if daring god to give it his best shot

his sister sat in the back of the bus
hiding from her own bloodline
denying his existence 
to sit next to cheerleaders
who would shoot spitballs  
into her greasy black hair
when she wasn’t looking

she would just laugh
as if she was in on the joke
saving her tears for after supper
when she could write it all down
in a secondhand trapper keeper
with a wrinkled picture 
of mary lou retton 
taped to the front

they used to jump rope
in their front yard
with these same kids  

their mother used to tell them 
they could be whatever they wanted

but she never had to carry 
their books in the snow
heavy with the weight of hours

when silence greeted them
in crowded halls

& blood seemed thicker
than almost anything.

 

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017) and Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize. He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

 

More By John Dorsey

Creatures of Our Better Nature

The Mark Twain Speech

Punk Rock at 45

Poem for Curtis Hayes

 

Image Credit: Attic Red-Figure Janiform Kantharos Fragment. Attributed to Onesimos, painter (Greek (Attic), active 500 – 480 B.C.) Attributed to Euphronios, potter (Greek (Attic), active 520 – 480 B.C.) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

John Dorsey: “Poem for Curtis Hayes”

 

Poem for Curtis Hayes

you say that everything we can see here
was once a strawberry field
& talk about a girl
who once had a baby in the bathroom
that now has a busted sink
as we sit beside your empty swimming pool 
sipping gin & tonics in the sun

the past is a young man’s game
its bones good & strong

runaway birds in our infancy
we all make strange sounds
that pass for stories

before we fly away.

 

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017) and Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize. He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

 

More By John Dorsey

Creatures of Our Better Nature

The Mark Twain Speech

Punk Rock at 45

 

Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “Used bathtubs and sinks, on display and for sale, along a road between Oxford and Batesville in Lee County, Mississippi” (2016) The Library of Congress

As It Ought To Be Magazine’s Nominees for the 2019 Best of the Net Anthology

 

As It Ought To Be Magazine is proud to announce our nominees for Sundress Publications’ 2019 Best of the Net Anthology.

 

Poetry

Ruth Bavetta “A Murder”

John Dorsey “Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead”

Mike James “Grace”

Rebecca Schumejda “i don’t want this poem to be about the death penalty, but it is”

Bunkong Tuon “Gender Danger”

Kory Wells “Untold Story”

 

Nonfiction

Daniel Crocker “Mania Makes Me a Better Poet”

Nathan Graziano “The Misery of Fun”

 

Congratulations to our nominees and thank you to all of the writers and readers who have supported As It Ought To Be Magazine.

 

Image Credit: Henry Pointer “The Attentive Pupil” (1865) Digitally Enhanced. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program