This isn't the latest Pitchfork darling or an episode of "This American Life," but pay attention. Philip J. Burgess's collection of poems and stories brims with keen wordsmithing. It begins with the alphabetical recitation of a Fort Peck monument to dead Indian scouts: Bad Knife, Bakes His Own, Bear Ghost. Not just a tribute to the men, but a tribute to the sounds of names. The rest of the tracks are mostly poems, plus a few stories, from the Missoula poet who grew up in the hardscrabble rural landscape of Eastern Montana. "Abandoned Horses" touches on guilt, wildness and fences. In "Hard Candy," a waitress flirts with a man "partly for tips, partly for pity" as he misses his wife.
I love "Dakotah's Last Stand," where he says, "Dakotah rests up from chemo on a calfskin couch with an American flag pulled up to his chin... Some days he thinks to rise up just once more to take revenge for the screwdriver murder of an LA friend and some days he just stays in his sleeping roll with a blanket over the cutglass window and let's the stove go cold." Burgess has a strong, clear voice that's kept pure by producer Max Allyn. Supercharged with delicious imagery, each poem leaves you pining for more.
Philip Burgess appears at a CD release party at Fact and Fiction Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7 PM.