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American Anthem

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‘After spending a week sleeping on the floor / of a crack house she comes home dragging / a heap of bones.’ So begins Kelly Michels’ sometimes shocking debut as the author remembers observing her mother. Blending lyric and narrative modes the dominant strands of American Anthem focus on the tragedies, both personal and national, of the opioid epidemic and its devastating effects of addiction and of gun violence in America where the author grew up.

Drawing on personal experience, in the books centrepiece, a tour de force addressed to the writer’s younger sister, the repeated, repercussive ‘How do I tell her?’ allows us to overhear the harrowing details of an assault by a rapist. Other poems respond to a mass shooting in her home neighbourhood.

This is an urgent, necessary book, a severe indictment of the mammoth pharmaceutical companies and of the merchants and pro-ponents of arms.

Kelly Michels has heeded Robert Lowell’s injunction to ‘say what happened’ and her report is fashioned in a series of remarkable poems.

American Anthem proclaims a new voice in Irish poetry. It is an outstanding, bold and brave first collection.

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Publication date: 17 May 2024
Details: 112pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 882 6
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 883 3

Cover: ‘Ghost Gun’ (2016) © Seán Scully, oil and pastel on aluminium. Photo: courtesy the artist.

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