January 7, 2010

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Beauty of the Badlands, by Cliff Fell, Victoria University Press, 107 pages
Cliff Fell’s new book is a few things: a road trip, a tribute to Bob Dylan and a post-9/11 warning that things have changed.

This is all fascinating since Fell is a New Zealander, and his vision of the American Southwest feels romantic, to be sure, but also sort of out of focus. It’s less of a Hunter Thompson journey and more like something David Lynch might have concocted.

For example, in “Boulder City, Nevada” the narrator looks out over the broken phone booths, the funeral parlors, the diner next door with cowboy chaps as wall decorations — it’s a fine descriptive poem with an undercurrent that something is not right. But why Boulder City?

Beauty of the Badlands spends a lot of time creating the feeling of the dust bowl, the desert, the odd characters who live in such places, etc. But it feels like maybe Fell has never actually been there.

On one had, there’s nothing wrong with that and maybe I’m missing the point. Perhaps he’s using the Southwest to talk about all badlands: badlands of place, and time and of the heart.

Either way, it’s a fine collection. Just a little unreal. C+ Dan Szczesny