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Wayne State University Press

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Ragged Anthem

Poems by Chris Dombrowski

Award Winner


Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: March 2019
ISBN: 9780814346532
Pages: 144 Size: 6 x 9
Published: March 2019
ISBN: 9780814346549

Ragged Anthem displays the same inimitable voice and unflinching gaze that made Chris Dombrowski a Poetry Foundation bestseller and silver medal winner of Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year Award in poetry. His work has been celebrated by renowned writers such as Jim Harrison and Alicia Ostriker, who have called his books (respectively) "extraordinarily powerful and graceful" and "one of the most beautiful books of poetry I’ve read in years."

As in Dombrowski’s previous books, in Ragged Anthem the natural world is as alive and as fully realized as language allows. His comfort with the naming of the world, combined with a life lived intimately with the other species that populate the landscape of home, suggest an authenticity that few can claim. Ragged Anthem is a demonstration in continued poetic growth and expanded terrain. Written from the speaker’s midlife, the poems delve into the transformation of family, childhood tragedies, and politics. Dombrowski lifts the veil on the imbecilic bureaucracies—those on Capitol Hill and in the faculty meetings occurring in our own conference rooms—that often help to whittle our fates. The book contains well-placed and evocative allusions to such figures as American painter Mark Rothko and Saint Francis of Assisi, as well as the periodic highlighting of language from contemporary song lyrics. These "borrowings" set forth a conversation between the poet and other artists that evoke the original source while transforming it into something new, proving that words, although artifice, live within our bodies, changing our relationship to place.

Ragged Anthem makes a powerful and important contribution to contemporary poetry. Fans of Dombrowski’s past works and newcomers alike will bask in the poet’s firm yet relaxed approach to the shaping of language.

Chris Dombrowski is the author of the memoir Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker, and the World's Most Alluring Fish and the poetry collections Earth Again (Wayne State University Press, 2013) and By Cold Water (Wayne State University Press, 2009). His poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Guernica, Gulf Coast, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, The Southern Review, and others.

‘I hoped for some last gesture beyond a handshake,’ writes Chris Dombrowski in Ragged Anthem, a soulful book of longing that is as comic as it is reflective. These poems sing of humankind in need of something it can only seem to get from the natural world, and of how we won’t get it until we begin to understand ourselves as natural as any tree or river. Or as Dombrowski himself says, ‘Again / I took daybreak for granted, easy / as mistaking pinecone for wasp nest, / wasp nest for shed antler, antler / for branch.’ Here, these so-called mistakes make for discovery that approaches the magic of revelation.

– Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition

Reading Ragged Anthem is like staring at the sun and then looking away. Whatever is seen next is informed and haunted by that light. Dombrowski’s poems are that clear, that powerful. This book will change you.

– Kevin Goodan, author of Anaphora

‘It wearies one, the visionary mode,’ Chris Dombrowski writes in his remarkably unweary new book of poems, Ragged Anthem. The anthem is ragged, to be sure, with the disillusion and tenderness that comes with age and with a closely attended wonder—at a son’s words, a daughter’s drawings, brook trout, swallow nest, the sound of the word swale. Dombrowski reminds us with the clarity of a mountain stream why poems matter.

– Melissa Kwasny, author of Pictograph and Reading Novalis in Montana

Chris Dombrowski has proven himself to be among the best poets of his generation. As one of those readers who admired and enjoyed his first two books — better put, who has gone to the poems for spiritual sustenance, for wisdom, and for the magic of being transported to the landscapes where the poet makes his life—I’m happy to report that Ragged Anthem continues to sing those essential songs in beautiful and unexpected ways.

– Todd Davis, author of Native Species and Winterkill

Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem comes at us from the woods and the backyards of Main Street, somewhat in the tradition of Richard Hugo or B. H. Fairchild—even a more surreal version of W. C. Williams—a definite flowering in the American grain.

– Dorianne Laux, author of Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems

Here, Dombrowski quotes Roethke, another Michigan treasure: ‘In a dark time, the eye begins to see,’ and indeed these poems see the turmoil and resilient beauty of contemporary America, from ‘rivers strewn with moonlight and discarded / shopping carts’ to ‘boulder-curled cataracts / pocked by sewers.’ Even weeping, here, is the beginning of the ragged anthem we desperately need.

– Diane Seuss, author of Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl and Four-Legged Girl

There are few poets whose voices resonate with such confidence that I’d follow them from a fabricated lunar calendar to a departmental meeting to a text message—but in these gorgeous, spine-ful poems, full of the ‘shrapnel of the miraculous,’ I couldn’t help folding over the corner on every page until the collection became as dog-eared as a pointer on a duck hunt. ‘I was a creature once,’ Dombrowski says, and in his poems we are allowed to return to the creatures we all once were: vital and deeply rooted in a world that is happening not on a screen or around a board room table but here and now and together. While his poems evince great skill, they are not made of artifice. Dombrowski finds the heart in the hurt thing, the burnt thing, the thing with the broken wing, the thing that doesn’t know it wants to be loved until it is. And his speaker—the self-proclaimed ‘poet laureate of boot slush’—vows ‘to someday see / the world as the world, not a caption on my life.’ It makes sense to fear for our lives in the world we live in, surrounded by our own madness and the kinds of sadnesses that are passed down from one generation to the next. But Dombrowski begs us to love each terrifying moment. And in his poems, I do. This is a book to hold close.

– Keetje Kuipers, author of All Its Charms

The magnificent poems in Ragged Anthem showcase Chris Dombrowski’s numinous adoration of the beautiful and strange. Ragged Anthem is strung together from anthills and elk and geese—the text messages and decapitations that become our selves. From exquisitely reverential renderings of the natural world to the twinned experiences of love and loss, this is a superb collection, one to be savored.

– Alex Lemon, author of Another Last Day and Feverland: A Memoir in Shards

Anyone who thinks poetry is just for sissies hasn’t had the pleasure of reading Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem released this spring from Wayne State University Press. Ragged Anthem is appropriately titled. Dombrowski’s poems speak to the hard, sometimes brutal but always enduring spirit of nature and America. If you like poetry, [this book] should most certainly make your summer reading list. If you didn’t think you liked poetry, this book could change your mind.

– Michael Tidemann, Writers and Writing column in Faribault Daily News

CHRIS DOMBROWSKI talks a lot about "the gone" in his new book of poems — the gone being the dead — but he’s still here. These wonderful poems ask why, and how durable he might be, faced with so much trouble. Which is not fully enumerated in Ragged Anthem, but we understand from the photo of the red-white-and-blue car door on the cover that we all own it, and we’re all invited to bring whatever we’ve got. There is specific trouble, like deaths too intimate and suicide too tempting, and then there is the recently refreshed, universal disquiet about ourselves as Americans, the trouble fellow Montanan Thomas McGuane identified when he wrote the opening line to 92 in the Shade: "Nobody knows, from sea to shining sea, why we are having all this trouble with our republic." The difference being we have a pretty good idea now. We are all living there.

– Dean Kuipers, Los Angeles Review of Books

The glorious song Ragged Anthem sings reveals Dombrowski’s allegiance to the living systems of Earth, to kindness, sincerity, wisdom, vulnerability, family, to music and love and all such numinous things, and most of all, a brand of gritty, irreverent, and boldy imperfect grace available to all.

– Derek Sheffield, Terrain.org

There's a poem in Ragged Anthem, the fantastic new book by Chris Dombrowski which comes out this week, that I think about a lot. It’s been a long winter, and I printed the poem out and put it on the refrigerator, between the school lunch schedule and a drawing of Wonder Woman. In a collection so stuffed with near-perfect poems that its hundred-odd pages should outweigh an anvil, it's the one that comes to mind in March, when the path to the barn is lacquered in iced chicken shit, half the woodpile is frozen together from the one night I forgot to cover it, and my hands are beat-up and red. The wood-stove stays hungry but the light changes, and the Jays and Cardinals are staking out their territory in the early dark. I went out to fish the other day and wound up following some bobcat tracks to a deer kill, a sort of pinkish Times Square in the snow where every creature from eagle to coyote and fox had come to feed, and a good place to stand, a perfect physical counterweight to the technicolor psychoses of the internet. That's the kind of place where Ragged Anthem lives.

– Jeffrey Foucault, musician

  • 2019 Foreword INDIES Book Awards - Result: Finalist in the Poetry category

Fleda Brown reading poems from Chris Dombrowski on Interlochen Public Radio's Michigan Writers on the Air (July 23, 2019)

Interview on Montana Public Radio's (KUFM) "The Write Question" with Sarah Aronson (April 25, 2019)

Missoulian article (March 18, 2019)

Interview on Mountain & Prairie Podcast with Ed Roberson (March 2019)

"Going Home," an epic and heart-breaking poem from the just-published book Ragged Anthem by Chris Dombrowski, as improvised with Jeffrey Foucault at Dombrowski’s kitchen table into the phone on a bright Montana morning before hunting together in the fall of ‘17.

Jeffrey Foucault on guitar, Chris Dombrowski reading, backyard magpie on backing vocals.