Requiem for Used Ignition Cap
by J. Scott Brownlee
Winner of the 2015 Orison Poetry Prize, selected by C. Dale Young.
Winner of the 2016 Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush Memorial Award for a first book of poetry.
Finalist for the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award.
76 pp. / $24.00 (hardcover)
Publication date: November 16, 2015
Distributed to the trade by Itasca Books
1-800-901-3480 / firstname.lastname@example.org
J. Scott Brownlee’s first full-length poetry collection, Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, explores the rural landscape and residents of Brownlee’s native Llano, Texas. Brownlee might be considered a natural mystic, refusing to settle for the simplistic ideological framework offered by his religious heritage, but rather finding in the particulars of place the vehicles of transcendence. Drawn into the local by these poems, the reader finds much that proves universal.
“J. Scott Brownlee may live in Philadelphia, but he’s never far from Llano. You can sense that – see it, touch it, smell it – in Requiem for Used Ignition Cap . . . . Every poem in the book is deeply rooted in Hill Country soil . . . . […] And nothing of that place that is conjured – not the antlered buck or the wounded Iraq war vet, not the salt lick or the horseflies or the catfish heads on a clothesline – has an air of distance about it, of being drawn from memories of long ago. The descriptions vibrate with the immediacy of things freshly seen and felt, held just under the skin and still rushing hot through the blood.”
“This is a big hearted uncomplaining book, sometimes biblical in its utterances; it brings to mind the definition of poetry, ‘breaking the frozen sea,’ and Brownlee dives in, too, and writes of the undercurrent. […] Can a poet be revelatory without being overwhelmed by suffering? Brownlee can — and he’s good at it.”
–GRACE CAVALIERI, The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Devotion, whether in poetry or prayer, requires one to pay attention. From the very first poem of this collection to the last, J. Scott Brownlee does exactly that. Whether it is the landscapes of Texas, soldiers home from Iraq, or the awkward ways in which we relate to each other, these poems pay close attention to details and transform them into something organic, whole, and incredibly moving.”
–C. DALE YOUNG, judge of the 2015 Orison Poetry Prize
“J. Scott Brownlee’s Requiem for Used Ignition Cap pulses with imagery that grounds and levitates mind and body [. . .]. This collection, honed and shaped, is woven from ordinary lives and dreams, and each trope honors the earth we walk upon. There’s a feeling in this collection—voices and rituals that spark the landscape. Brownlee juxtaposes mind and spirit, and there’s nowhere these poems don’t dare to go.”
“The violence of men, the delicacy of their broken bodies, the religiosity of the town that raised them: all of these influence Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, which documents an America we rarely see. In J. Scott Brownlee’s Llano, high school football heroes become PTS-affected war vets. The rural dead sing from the hollow flutes their bones leave in the dust. These are poems whose language begins with the body and the land. For Brownlee, the two are inseparable.”
“In his debut collection, J. Scott Brownlee writes a stunning ode to his rural Texas hometown and its fathers, brothers, and ghosts. Llano is a place where meth addicts score, wildflowers burn, hunters drink in their blinds, slain deer talk, soldiers return from duty with loaded guns, and the Wal-Mart sign glows brighter than Friday night’s lights. In forms that barely contain their explosive contents, Brownlee’s poems relate and interrogate what’s expected of young White men growing up in the rural South. In doing so, they resist the erasure and nostalgia of some Southern literature and instead lay bare the benefits and violent trappings of small-town Christianity and masculinity. These poems are at once song, accusation, self-implication, and prayer—full of the music of a place from which Brownlee is forever removed but from which he will always hail.”
–SUSAN B.A. SOMERS-WILLETT
Empty the summer of its sweat.
Empty the river of its silt
where Troy once jumped down
from the dam, charging a fee
to witness it. “I will bet you
a dollar and a quarter I won’t
break my leg,” he said,
“when I backflip off it.”
Empty the casket of the other boy
who drowned and his mother’s Bible
where she wrote her son’s name
in the margins a thousand times.
Empty the parable where Jesus walks
on water in a storm and revise it.
Write: Jesus drowns. Everyone does.
Empty the disappearing town
I’m both a part of and depart from
with its George Bush and its Baptists
and its single-mindedness. “There is
only one way,” its preachers say,
“and our President knows.”
Empty the mineral deposits,
Llanite rocks and coal-black clay.
Empty the silver mine, its prospectors,
the dust of wealth clinging still
to their skeletal hands. Empty
the highways of trucks and midnight
switchback Saturdays, of dizzy drunks
and Sunday drivers who have come
to see the flowers. Empty processions
to and from local cemeteries. Empty
the cup full of grape juice because
it won’t turn into wine. Empty
the podium my friend stood on
and the vanishing faith he felt
as he watched the boy drown.
Empty his eulogy: “I could not
save him from the undertow
despite all the praying I tried.
The floodgates were open.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J. Scott Brownlee, born and raised in Llano Texas, is a former Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU, where he earned his M.F.A. and taught poetry to undergraduates and fifth graders through the Teachers & Writers Collaborative. His poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Narrative Magazine, Hayden’s Ferry Review, West Branch, RATTLE, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nashville Review, Ninth Letter, BOXCAR Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Brownlee writes about the people and landscape of rural Texas and is a founding member of The Localists, a literary collective that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working class. He is the author of two prize-winning chapbooks: Highway or Belief, recipient of the 2013 Button Poetry Prize, and Ascension, recipient of the 2014 Robert Phillips Poetry Prize.