In 1972, Michael Casey won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for Obscenities, a collection of poems drawn from his military experience during the Vietnam War. In his foreword to the book, judge Stanley Kunitz called the work “a kind of anti-poetry that befits a kind of war empty of any kind of glory” and “the first significant book of poems written by an American to spring from the war in Vietnam.” Its raw depictions of war’s mundanity and obscenity resonated with a broad audience, and Obscenities went into a mass market paperback edition, and was stocked in drugstores as well as bookstores. In the decades since, Casey’s poetry has continued to document the places of his work and life. Then and now, his poems foreground the voices around him over that of a single author; they are the words of young American conscripts and their Vietnamese counterparts, coworkers and bosses, neighbors and strangers. His compressed sketches and unadorned monologues have appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, and Rolling Stone. There It Is: New and Selected Poems presents, for the first time, a full tour through Casey’s work, from his 1972 debut to 2011’s Check Points, together with new and uncollected work from the late 60s on. Here are all the locations of Casey’s life and work—Lowell to Landing Zone, dye house to desk—and an ensemble cast with a lot to say.
The publication of Michael Casey's New and Selected Poems, with his quirky portraits of ordinary Americans, is an event to celebrate. Like a photographer snapping pictures relentlessly, he must have written a poem about everyone he ever met with dead-on realism. Compared to him, the Spoon River Anthology is a work for kiddies. If Robert Frost was a poet of the rural New Englander, Michael Casey, also a New Englander, brings to life his mill town background, the guys who didn't go on to college and the larger world, but married the girls they dated in high school and got jobs in the mill. When he's sent to Vietnam he captures his fellow soldiers in their own military jargon. A master of the vernacular, he forces one to question writing in the 'correct' language when so many of us speak it quite differently, the language we think and feel in. Rare among poets, he's willing to explore colloquial speech in all its messiness, and gets it down perfectly – in fact, he's got us all down spot on. This collection, with its wide range of voices, is a unique achievement.”
— Edward Field, author of The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag and After the Fall: Poems Old and New
“I first heard Michael Casey read these poems on a July evening in New Hampshire long ago while the war in Vietnam was still a tremendous confusion and sorrow for all of us and the poems made sense of it in a new way. My writer father had discovered that our summer neighbor was a poet and had invited him to read to us. I was stunned by the power of the language, the great-heartedness of the poems, the way Casey was not afraid to write about how men act under pressure, the way he used ordinary words to describe extraordinary feelings.
Now I read the poems in a New York City apartment in a time that seems as confusing as the 1970’s. Michael Casey’s poems changed as he went back to work after the war and later when he moved north, but their power is undiminished. He is tough but the poems are tender. These are poems that grab you by the heart and refuse to let you go. Read them!”
– Susan Cheever, author of Drinking in America: Our Secret History and E.E. Cummings: A Life
“These are wonderfully droll, deadpan poems, like slyly condensed short stories, with an eye for the tellingly absurd detail and an ear for the oddities of everyday speech.”
— Michael Foley, author of The Age of Absurdity and Isn’t This Fun: Investigating the Serious Business of Enjoying Ourselves