American Flowers


THE BOOK: American Flowers.


THE AUTHOR:  Tyler Flynn Dorholt.

THE EDITOR: Dane Bahr.

THE PUBLISHER: Dock Street Press, out of Seattle, WA: “a boutique-publishing house specializing in compelling narrative non-fiction and clean, intelligent fiction.”

SUMMARY: American Flowers is a book of prose poems, with black and white photographs. Split up into six parts, the book also includes photographs of the original handwritten poems, which separate each section, and is 250 pages long.

THE BACK STORY: I’ve been writing prose poems for years and at some point in 2013 I realized I was writing contained prose poems, or lyrical splashes, about themes that related to one another. This might have just been proximity: I wrote all of these on post-it notes and affixed them to the same book, next to one another. I also wrote all of them by the same small window, from an apartment in Brooklyn. Much of the writing was corresponding to ways I was thinking not necessarily about, but out of photographs.

Once I had collected the writing, I was uncertain as to what shape the lyrics/blocks/strophes should be. After being assembled, the book was a finalist at a couple of poetry presses and also a finalist for a Lyric Essay contest, and so I knew it was missing something to make it feel and become its own book. I didn’t have a problem with this sense of hybridity, but it allowed me to understand that the shape of the work was meant to be in blocks, or paragraphs, and that the photographs I was taking in and around the writing were reflections of the writing. Even vice versa. That’s when photographs were added.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The word America, or American, has always seemed as equally personal as it has public to/for me. But, and whereas I used to think of its global heft, and its connections to patriotism and a collective beingness, I’d been thinking about it more inside the viscera of locality when composing these poems. American flowers to me are the sun-dunked strands of wheat and dandelions lopped off by lawnmowers and wild strawberries on the sides of fences and beige, struggling leans of weeds in the cracks of city sidewalks. But that doesn’t necessarily directly correspond to the writing. What does, and this didn’t become evident to me until someone asked about it, are the ways in which petals and buds correspond with one another. A flower, like a thought, doesn’t always bloom, doesn’t always become or meet an idea, doesn’t always sound up into a riveting glow. I liked the way that could be interpreted, even if I was the only one directly thinking of it that way. It became easier for me to think less about the hybrid nature of the work. The blocks didn’t need to be blocks. They were flowers.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I think that people can read one or two poems, and look at one or two photographs in the book, and wherever their mind goes experience more fully their own memory. I think it’s an odd debut book, in both its size and approach toward the poem, but I feel as though these poems and images allow another avenue into a reader’s memory bank, or a chance to think differently about something new or fresh to them, and thus the reader can trust themselves to open pages, even randomly, and sit with themselves inside of them. Plus the photographs are somewhat of a bonus.

REVIEW COMMENTS: “Dorholt has written a hugely impressive book. You will be asked to go on a journey when you read American Flowers, but don’t be so naive as to ask why. The answer is in the experience. And there is no better proof of the worth of that experience than what you will come away with, on your own.” Thomas Cook, at Fanzine 

“Muscular, intricate, dazzling, simultaneously homeopathic and ardent, the constantly reinventing and cross-pollinating language to be encountered in these pages is enduring in the most unostentatious sense of the word. American Flowers is a gift to lyricism itself.” Joe Milazzo.

AUTHOR PROFILE: In college I was fortunate to study with the marvelous Joyce Sutphen (the now Minnesota poet laureate) and then, later on in graduate school, with Lisa Fishman. I like to think of these as the Midwest years, and both Sutphen and Fishman opened doors for me to dial my own tones. In that mix of time, I count a year spent abroad at Trinity College Dublin, where I was influenced (under the tutelage of Terence Brown and Philip Coleman) by the work of Yeats, MacNeice, and Heaney. I speak of geography and names because I’ve been involved in the poetry communities of many cities–Minneapolis, Chicago, Brooklyn–and each city has lit up different poetic avenues for me, both in terms of form and history.

I find that, and although I’ve taught writing at a few colleges and universities, the continuance of the poem for me has occurred in a solitary fashion, outside of the workplace. Having worked as an executive assistant, in numerous capacities across many industries for the past decade, I move into the poem and its production with an energy of the off-hour. I thus tend to be focused on generating work that often ends up being the perfect length for a chapbook, and this is probably why I love that length for a book. I find my manuscripts either fit into chapbook size or, like American Flowers, something beyond the normal length of a book of poetry, something between 150 and 250 pages. This isn’t to say I don’t have manuscripts between 48 and 80 pages (they’re sitting on my shelf and inside my computer right now) but I’m conscious of how books come to be and that perhaps there are many other ways for them to come into being than common practice might suggest. Part of this is why I love editing so much. It helps inform my own writing. Since 2009, I have co-edited and published the journal Tammy. We are filling our ninth issue now, and have published over 150 writers, many of whom we’d never encountered before. We have ventured into publishing chapbooks but a few of them are longer than chaps, somewhere just short of books. I love discovering this work, or setting up a platform for the work to discover the three of us editors at Tammy.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: American Flowers begins with the lyric and the poems within it report to a cycle of beginnings, of beginning to think, attend to, flesh out, and address the feelings of thinking. I think what continues to fascinate me the most about poems, and this ties back to the length of my book and the idea that books of poems shouldn’t have to be a certain length, is that we as writers are perhaps never done writing about something. I don’t know I’d say that this means we’re always writing about the same thing, but that there is a commonality of reach at play, and because of this many books don’t ever seem done, or at least that’s where I stand right now. American Flowers inspired a second book of equal length for me, American Hours, and though there are many differences between the two, they are part of a similar idiom of reactivity and infiltration. Prosaic meditation, yes, but also lyrical remediation.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Here is a random flower from early on in the book:

I want to tell you where I am, staring into the fire we built to remember what has left us, parting from nothing more temporary than the field we cross in retrieving the extemporaneous, log on log for trees from forest, raising those hands up in the scream of bees, nobody ready for the inventors of peace or harmony to intervene with our unease, even if it’s from their words where we can return to ourselves, flowing out stemless to picket the pointless sky, stock phrases in our never-tongues, the whole cinema slumping right when the hero steps on the bridge, & that we walk out there, between mountains, to the edges of the ridge, & take a picture of what cannot be seen. 

LOCAL OUTLETS: Syracuse University Bookstore. Milkweed Books in Minneapolis, MN. Berl’s Poetry Shop in Brooklyn, NY.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Dock Street Press’s website. SPD Books. Amazon.

PRICE: $17

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: or @tfdorhol on Twitter.


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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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