BOOK REVIEW: Hardly Alone by Red Shuttleworth

Review by David Z. Drees

The Great Plains have always rumbled with a sort of enduring authenticity, but few have captured it as uniquely as Red Shuttleworth in his latest collection, Hardly Alone. Deep in what far too many consider flyover country, the “shabby heaven of crazy roads, rain and wind,” there is life; there is triumph, struggle, and loss. There is resurrection. There is a man in a twelve-day coma, deliriously robbing banks with outlaws or simply reminiscing while the “death rattle went on and on like Waylon’s guitar.”

Embracing nostalgia while defying the clichés that so often accompany it, Red Shuttleworth’s Hardly Alone is a ruggedly unpredictable collection. Shuttleworth writes, “Time is a pair of yellowed bone-dice in a rawhide cup.” True to his word, the readers of Hardly Alone are seamlessly jolted between decades, the poems resonating across generations, each striving for a time and a place “where a man might become more / than a rusted-out gasoline can.”

Shuttleworth writes, “I’m all the Great Plains brute as I was,” and indeed, the poems in Hardly Alone bleed grit and sweat resilience. If they were hands, they’d be callused, experienced, and scarred. From the “memorial quality of winter elms” to “[c]aterwauling babies, scurry of desert mice, jack-o-lantern children’s faces,” the imagery sets a tone. It echoes throughout the collection, musical without a marriage to rhythm, cultured but unrestrained. It blurs the line between life and death, dream and reality, past and present; it takes a risk to immerse the reader, and the result is a collection of rebirth, but a rebirth where “The Risen One staggers drunk, / Guinness-hammered, away from dawn light.”

Honest and humbling, Shuttleworth’s collection brings forth “a certain melancholy,” cloaked in whisky and a five-o-clock shadow. It weaves youth, aging, and death in a manner as untamed as the outlaw, modern or gunslinger. The poems pulse like the plucking of a worn but loyal guitar string. Is it a melody of our youth, or the beginning of our dirges? Both? Does it matter? In Hardly Alone, Shuttleworth invites us to ask, to live while remembering, “There is only a piece of an inch / between death and here.”

Red Shuttleworth is a three-time recipient of Western Writers of America’s Spur Award for Poetry. Woe to the Land Shadowing (Blue Horse Press) won the 2016 Western Heritage Wrangler Award for Best Poetry Book. Shuttleworth received a 2017 Tanne Foundation Award in Poetry and Playwriting. In 2007 True West magazine named him “Best Living Western Poet.”

Shuttleworth holds an MA in Creative Writing: Poetry from San Francisco State University where he studied with Kay Boyle and William Dickey. He received an MFA in Theatre: Playwriting from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he was mentored by Jerry L. Crawford, Julie Jensen, and Davey Marlin-Jones.

Over the past five decades, Shuttleworth’s poems have appeared in a couple of hundred journals, including Prairie Schooner, Southwest Review, True West, and West Branch. His screeds, sportswriting, plays, and other pieces have appeared in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, ArtForum, Boxing Illustrated, Elysian Fields Baseball Quarterly, Foreign Affairs, and The Ring. Shuttleworth has published two-hundred poetry chapbooks, eight full collections of poetry, and four books of plays.

Shuttleworth and his family lived near Winside, Nebraska, in the eighties, where they ran a few motley cattle. Today, Red and Kate Shuttleworth live southwest of Wilson Creek, Washington. They have four adult children.

Hardly Alone

Red Shuttleworth

Perfect Paperback: 76

ISBN-13: 978-1732027596

WSC Press (October 2021)