Review: “Shoot the Messenger” by John Dorsey

Shoot the Messenger by John Dorsey
Red Flag Press, 2017
62 pages

In John Dorsey’s America, failure is faultless. The aged beauty queen, the misunderstood waitress, a man who spent three decades failing one section of an algebra class, a family friend arrested for stalking Phil Collins and all of the other characters in this collection are perfectly imperfect!

In “Dear Phil,” Dorsey writes about his mother’s friend, the woman arrested for stalking Phil Collins.

phil was a great lover
of sunshine and wrestling lyrics
like the alligators of summer

he just couldn’t let his female fans know
that his songs were all about her
they’d stop buying his records

The beauty of Dorsey’s character studies is his ability to capture intimate details organically and make light of heavy situations in an empathetic manner. This skill is also apparent when Dorsey writes about chance encounters like in “The Colorado Cafe at High Noon,” when he talks about a waitress.

fiddle music floats out from the kitchen
the waitress moans about her boyfriend
drunk again
and the death of the silver mines
that once brought money in

Throughout the collection, Dorsey weaves bits of conversation into poems, capturing the essence of people and places. He makes you feel as if you were part of his childhood, at the diner eating breakfast with him, or riding on the same dirt road in the middle of nowhere. A simile in “County Route 705,” not only creates a vivid image, but seems like the extended metaphor for the entire collection.

the sun shining
on our failures

just hanging there
like a rusty hubcap
nailed to the cross.

The depth of this simile showcases the complexity of John’s work. He highlights universal shortcomings, when he says “our failures”  and then reaches further by comparing the sun to a man made object, one that has been affected by the elements, nailed to a cross. When I think of a cross, two intersecting lines, I think of how John often brings the reader to a crossroad and allows them to decide where they want to go.  One of my favorite pieces in this collection is a poem honoring Annie Menebroker, one that totally captures her essence.

Bone Silo
For annie menebroker

 the toughest birds
never even see
the window sil

they dive heart first
into the sun.

This poem captures Annie’s passion for life, love, friends, family and poetry and seems to perfectly fit with this issue of TPQ. I highly recommend John’s work and this is a great sampling! Another amazing collection that just came out is Being the Fire, published by Tangerine Press. The poems are spot on and the book itself is gorgeous. You can find the book here: and Shot the Messenger here: