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Michael Ruby reads from The Star-Spangled Banner


Michael Ruby is not only a poet, but a journalist who works as an editor at the Wall Street Journal where he is involved with the news—whatever it may be—right there in the thick of it from day to day. This brings us to his recent book, The Star-Spangled Banner, and the poems that are in it. “Every poem,” Michael says, “uses the eighty-one words of the song and inserts phrases into the spaces between them.” Using the national anthem as a framework to write poems about, among other things, news events connects the poet to the bigger picture, and is also an excellent way to experiment with language, consciously weaving the two together, and coming up with a new texture as well as a hybrid event.

As far as national anthems go, as well as my own, I know the Chinese and the French, which are far bloodier than mine is. “The March of the Volunteers” and “La Marseilles” urge citizens to rise up until every furrow in the field flows with traitor’s blood. But my Star-Spangled Banner simply asks: “O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?” It’s not a call to arms; it’s a question wanting to be answered. “Our Democracy? Do you see it? Does it still exist?”

Events as terrible as 9/11 or as lovely as taking your daughters to school in the morning are wrapped in the metaphor of the flag to become poignant poems, new news in fact.

In the Vimeo below recorded on Zoom Michael Ruby reads four poems that he’s selected. Enjoy.



Here are three poems that Michael Ruby doesn’t read that I’ve selected as well.



O 1957 say 1958 can 2034 you 1974 see 2029
By 1987 the 2014 dawn’s 1994 early 2036 light 2019
What 2017 so 1968 proudly 1995 we 1964 hailed 2027
At 2015 the 1993 twilight’s 1965 last 2023 gleaming 1959

Whose 2018 broad 1976 stripes 1997 and 2002 bright 1991 stars 1982
Through 1988 the 2005 perilous 1977 fight 2035
O’er 2007 the 1966 ramparts 2000 we 2003 watched 1971
Were 1983 so 2001 gallantly 1984 streaming 2010

And 1998 the 2016 rocket’s 1972 red 1986 glare 2008
The 2013 bombs 1967 bursting 1963 in 2026 air 2022
Gave 1999 proof 2009 through 2028 the 1979 night 2020
That 1962 our 2032 flag 1961 was 1981 still 1992 there 1980

O 2012 say 1969 does 1996 that 1975 star 2031 spangled
      2004 banner 1960 yet 2006 wave 1973
O’er 2024 the 2033 land 1990 of 2021 the 1970 free 1989
And 1985 the 2025 home 1978 of 2030 the 2011 brave 2037



O sealed borders say flood damage can brain drain you DNA tests see rich kids
By designer drugs the extreme sports dawn’s mold early overspending light overeating
What bloated military so strongmen proudly quiet euthanasias we servants hailed investment advisers
At benefit cuts the angry talk shows twilight’s country estates last caretakers gleaming cellphone towers

Whose earphones broad video screens stripes cleaning crews and home attendants bright sales associates stars the destitute
Through doubling up the suicides perilous metal detectors fight bomb-sniffing dogs
O’er DNA tests the technological collapse ramparts mold we earphones watched new weather
Were infomercials so gated communities gallantly angry talk shows streaming drug-resistant bacteria

And financial scandals the underground economy rocket’s Hobbesian continents red tax havens glare sealed borders
The water shortages bombs video screens bursting crumbling infrastructure in gridlock air consultants
Gave fundamentalism proof decadence through suicides the brain drain night foundations
That overspending our discounters flag the destitute was prisons still overeating there sex tourists

O emergency rooms say tripling up does begging that party planners star creative outpouring spangled Alzheimer’s banner new weather and flora yet light shows wave quiet euthanasias
O’er faded tattoos the benefit cuts land sycophancy of front men the realists free cellphone towers
And metal detectors the mechanical breakdowns home closed-off regions of organs for sale the addictions brave talk of end times



O U.S. on counterattack say the right time can a man down you knock him down see the most expensive player
By trailing at the half the little slip here dawn’s straddling the line of bankruptcy early he never broke light gives it up
What not going in the right direction so their fair share proudly dangerous play we clear it hailed great looks
At any other ball the stand up twilight’s round of 16 last to take the free kick gleaming corrals this one

Whose restart here broad trying to get the inside position stripes his United States jersey and always right on the verge bright on the top of strikers stars Ghana’s gonna milk this
Through rumble of electricity the here in Nuremburg perilous the United States in a must win fight everywhere he goes
O’er Juventus in Italy the right into the post ramparts inside the box we in the 67th minute watched golden opportunity
Were really working hard so how fit the U.S. team is gallantly back over to the U.S.A. streaming will fitness

And the U.S.A. in full attack mode the exactly what the U.S.A. wanted rocket’s offside once more for the United States red shot of Times Square glare a tie does nothing
The go against the United States bombs presented by Adidas bursting his service down the wing in spark on the outside air the last substitute
Gave foul against the U.S.A. proof time beginning to be a factor through no foul on this play the he made a bad call night a dentist by trade
That Germany is his home our man of the match flag another foul was not many chances still as good as this one there not a strong effort

O drive it into the six-yard box say can the U.S. help itself does this booming kick that someone on a mad run star play the ball forward spangled with a free kick banner not enough yet couldn’t get around wave losing it
O’er a man down the corner for the U.S.A. land the man down of wait on him the fitness free stitch in the side
And their fate on this day the four years of dreaming home on the verge of elimination of set pieces the that simple brave run out the rest of the time



The Star-Spangled Banner is published by Station Hill Press. You can check it out here:


You can buy it here:



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