BOOK REVIEW: frontpew@paradise by JV Brummels

Review by David Z. Drees

What is a cowboy? In the twenty-first century world of glowing screens and averted eyes, have we lost appreciation for “red-grass hills,” “Old skinny cows / bellies round with calf” and manure on scuffed boots? Published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2017, JV Brummels’ frontpew@paradise is a stirring testament to a life lived on the Great Plains,

the oldest of professions —
trading grass for flesh
flesh for grass —
between scrabbling out some few truths
amid the graves of many others —
buried bodies along the back trail.

Rustic and vividly grounded, the newest of Brummels’ collections is rich in the imagery of the prairie,

Far from parenthetical coasts —
those warrens of great cities
burning jewels
the moon eyes like creeping
rival sentience.

Against this intricate backdrop, “a place of lonely people / good cattle and notions in the dark / where peace shows up late by years / if it comes at all,” Brummels’ poems achieve a meditative state of humble reminiscence, as gripping in their imagery and rhythm as they are introspective, genuine, and reflective of “these meager times / when no giants walk the earth.”

In frontpew@paradise, Brummels immerses himself in the blues, maintaining a sense of solitariness throughout the work without alienating his audience, a tone of determined resilience, an insistence that “no man will beat down / the fences to his heart / and he smiles so it shows.” The work is inclusive on the most human level: emotion and the intrinsic contradictions of memory. Timothy Levitch once said, “Remembering is so much more a psychotic activity than forgetting,” and few collections of poetry have encapsulated the idea with the sincerity and elegance of frontpew@paradise. The collection churns in the contradictions that drive the evolution of a man: youth and aging, memory and regret. Rhythmic in its internal turbulence, Brummels lulls the reader to meet him “here too far from a winning football team / in a country of falling all-in corn prices.” And we do, drawn to the stool beside him in an otherwise empty bar. He orders whisky with a cup of ice, drops a few cubes into the glass. He smiles at how they dissolve a little, but linger just enough to change the taste, like regret, a passing thought that maybe we “should have kept to the neighbors’ / churchy recipe.”

JV Brummels’ frontpew@paradise balances the personal and universal with an insight reserved for only the most accomplished of poets, and his ability to address the fickle, oftentimes painful nature of hindsight is a quality to be savored. A poet who writes, “It’s not my first time around this block / keeping the body occupied while inside / what’s broken takes the risk of mending” is as honest as they come. And if there is a place beyond this plane, this oftentimes disheartening void, William Kloefkorn is toasting to Brummels’ collection and the resounding epiphany that “Blues without humor ain’t nothing / but feeling sorry for yourself.”



JV Brummels’ collections include Cheyenne Line and Other Poems, Book of Grass, City at War and most recently frontpew@paradise (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2017). A former professor at Wayne State College, home of the longest running poetry slam west of Chicago, he’s also written and published short fiction and a novel. Raised first on a farm and later on a ranch, he was educated at the University of Nebraska and Syracuse University. In 1984 he and his family began a horseback cattle outfit to raise natural, grass-fed beef, which they continue to operate as Lightning Creek Cattle Company.

JV Brummels
Paperback: 88 pages
Publisher: Stephen F. Austin University Press (May 18, 2017)
ISBN-13: 978-1622881611