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Knot Editor in Chief, Kristen D. Scott, Reviews Rattle and Numb: New and Selected Poems, 1992-2019 (Venetian Spider Press, 2019) by John Burroughs

          Ohio Beat Poet Laureate 2019-2021, John Burroughs's Rattle and Numb: New and Selected Poems, 1992-2019 (Venetian Spider Press) is Beat Poetry Paradise. Burroughs’s spontaneity, jeu de mots, and stunning slammed chaotic images, earns Burroughs’s membership at the Beat Poetry table with papa’s Ginsberg, Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Corso, Kesey, Huncke, and Carr – if it were not for their nonconformity!

          Burroughs shoots from the hip with the first poem of the collection, “Contents.” The first two lines set a rhythm that creates this connection between Burroughs and his reader. Like the Pied Piper, the reader must follow him through mesmerizing language streets: “After Kao Ch’an/ John Cage Engaged and Uncaged” (Burroughs, 2019, p. 1). Of course, “Contents” begs performance. Still, Burroughs’s mastery allows the reader to imagine his recital in their minds: “Can Do/ Do Dew/ Tell a Vision/ Fire, Brimstone/ Allen Ginsberg Wants You/ Orlovsky Identity Crisis/ Out and In Audible/ I Hear Change” (Burroughs, 2019, p. 1).

            “I Hear Change” (Burroughs, 2019, p. 1), a line from “Contents” that resounds throughout the collection and acts as a theme of societal and individual change in poems such as, “Bloodshot,” “Identity Crisis, “I Hear Change,” and “Being the Change Is Not Enough:” “Telling a hungry mother to be/ the change she wishes to see/ is like telling her to be the meal/ she wants to eat and the money/ that'll pay her family's heating bills/ and as long as she can hardly/ afford her latest baby's formula/ Gandhi's will not satisfy” (Burroughs, 2019, p. 92). Here is the craft of Burroughs, wanting what he wants – a manifestation from words to realism.

            Although Burroughs’s repartee dazzles, there is a core of passion in Rattle and Numb that does not explode in a smack of rhythm and rhyme, but in a tempered duality of ambiguity and sincerity: “If I were to kiss you/ in Strongsville, Ohio,/ in front of the picture/ window at Borders Books,/ would you think I crossed/ the man made line between/ should and could and would” (Burroughs, 2019, p. 85). The trope continues in “Green Heart,” “probably because wormwood numbs the tongue like cocaine, and /got high on the thought of you and /the thought of the feel of you and the feel of the green then white and cloudy liquid that took me to/ you or away from feeling you absent and reminded me what I love/ and don't always love but sometimes miss about loving you” (Burroughs, 2019, p. 69).  The bareness of the man beneath the poet is endearing, and perhaps not so undressed as it is in the poems, “Top Less” and “Like July.” Burroughs (2019) writes, “I'm feeling topless/ or longing to feel/ top less, I'm not/ always sure which” (p. 73). “Once in a post-valentine/ dream a woman appears who makes the whole room/ each fragment of my shattered heart/ —I want to say the world entire— /less painful and much warmer” (p. 164).  

            Ohio Beat Poet Laureate, John Burroughs, in his book Rattle and Numb: New and Selected Poems, 1992-2019 (Venetian Spider Press, 2019) gives his readers himself. Burroughs is a multifaceted writer that slams rhyme masterfully, eternalizing the Beat Movement. However, this collection is more than a menagerie of rhythm and rhyme. Rattle and Numb rends a curtain between slam and the man who is John Burroughs.

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Kristen D. Scott is a six-time nominee of the Pushcart Prize in poetry for six works from her 2014 collection OPIATE. She is  an award-winning essayist for her work on Federico Garcia Lorca and his books the Divan del Tamarit, Poet of the Deep Song, and essay, "The Duende."


She has published in several anthologies, newspapers, and ezines, including two front covers from Nacional Newspaper in Albania,  the San Diego Poetry Annuals, Nomos Review, Perigee, Alesbuyia, and published two poetry collections from Garden Oak Press; LIAISONS (2012) and OPIATE (2014). She has been translated into Arabic, Albanian, Türçe, and Italian.


Scott is currently the Editor-In-Chief, founder, and web designer of KNOT Magazine.

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John Burroughs of Cleveland is the 2019-2021 Ohio Beat Poet Laureate. 

Playwright, musician, editor and the author of a dozen previous poetry collections, John is a dynamic performer who has wowed audiences from Oakland to New York City and myriad points in between. 

John has hosted several poetry reading series in the Greater Cleveland, and has served since 2008 as the  founding editor for Crisis Chronicles Press, publishing over one hundred books by esteemed writers from around the world.

He is a founding member of the Rolling Stock Poets troupe.

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Cover artwork by Emma Anderson.

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