Behind the Titles: A Closer Look
at 5th Generation Immigrant by Lee Busby
Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Ian Bodkin
Let’s discuss this collection’s title. Titles are the first introduction that a reader has to a piece. As a writer, I have the hardest time coming up with titles. The title for this collection I absolutely love! This is not only a brave title, but also a telling one. I love the ambition behind it and its simplicity. Did the title strike you? What did you think of it? Did it remind you of any other pieces that you’ve come across?
I love the title, it makes me laugh. At first it’s unassuming, then it hits me again as a play on the continuing commentary of this country. But then it comes again as a reminder and almost interrogative laid upon the reader; are we not as a people anything but immigrants first or fifth, can any of us be certain or native? As far as a reminder, yes it reminds me of many collections in the American tradition, most notably Song of Myself.
Thoughts on “The Argument?” I feel like the first poem in a collection is so telling of what the collection hopes to live up to. It’s a reader’s first taste of writing style and narrator voice. In this first poem I saw a lot of honesty and rawness. There were a few lines struck me with this kind of honesty. The first was, “…like we used to say as kids,/ back when our writing wasn’t better, but it was.” What made their writing better as children? For me the answer here is honesty. Children are so honest, and also they aren’t afraid of being themselves. There’s a beauty in the theme of that sort of personal honesty that tells me this collection is one that isn’t going to beat around the bush or try and distract me with falsehoods. Which makes me love the collection from the start. You can’t help but love the braveness of showing ones true self. Do you agree? Did you get the same sense of openness from this poem?
I get the same sense of openness throughout the collection. I think there is an innocence in these poems, but then isn’t that the deception as well. The speaker in these poems is constantly offering two divergent thoughts as one unifying principle. For me, “The Argument” is about honesty but only as any of us can be honest at any given moment. We lie about the truth and tell the truth about our lies.
Another line in, “The Argument,” that I loved was, “…Who put ice into my drink?/ I’ve set rivers of this whiskey on fire./ I’m not at my best right now.” Again, I’m being shown who the narrator is. And this narrator is telling me things that they aren’t proud of, they’re showing me this raw honesty that reinforces my belief that they are brave. Another line in this poem reads, “There’ve been/ times in my life when I felt guilty,/ but I was young at that time.” This happens to be the last line of the poem. So the narrator is older and unreliable due to the amount of whiskey they consume, but they keep telling their story of being a part of a land but also being separate from it (which we get from the title). If this doesn’t get you excited to see where this collection is going, I’m not sure what will.
Again, what I love in this poem and throughout the collection is that we are born to this land and yet in being human, he have no claim nor idea of the land. We alter it to our mindset, our prerogative, our emotional states, etc. We make the land into a lie. We are born from it. We attempt to control it. While in the end, we do nothing more than avoid that which we claim to have so much dominion over. And yes, you’re right this is exactly what excites me with every poem in this collection. Each poem is concerned with confronting our hypocrisy of being.
When you read, “You Always Call Me From Albuquerque” did you get the familiar feel of a relationship you know you should quit, but you can’t seem to? It’s a poem about getting a phone call late at night from a (presumably) previous love that is drunk. The poem has this feeling of longing surging through it. Perhaps it’s not a current longing so much as bad habit. Something you know you should put down, leave behind, but you can’t because once it made you happy. For the narrator it can never work, and the line that tells me this says, “You think love and biscuits have something in common.” The narrator is separated from this past love by the weight of unpaid bills, while the past love is taking men for a ride at a bar. They pretend that they’re going to see each other in the morning when the narrator hops on a plane and comes to her, but it never happens.
For me, “You Always Call Me From Albuquerque” is about longing and the abandon of attraction. Yes the speaker and the caller at some point knew one another, but their love was that of fantasy. After all who is the speaker “to judge,” last week he drank and took of driving because he “wanted to hear the wind and feel some Hank Williams.” Which is one of favorite lines because we all know what it means even if like a drunk, the syntax blurs perfectly as we may be more thunk than we drought we were. If anything, this poem is an ode to intoxication, especially that of another on the other end of the line. If we’re really honest, we won’t the fantasy to become real, so if we can get there maybe the caller will “put on some jeans, a t shirt, shoes / have some coffee, stay up and wait.” But truth is none of us would ever make the drive because come tonight who will call.
This collection is split into sections. In each section we learn about different threads that tie these poems together. We learn about a connection to black birds, and the trouble staying too long in one town can cause. We see the narrator’s love in a flower shop, and in the third section we go to Key West. There’s a poem called, “I Set Fire to Hemmingway!” which is about the narrator’s internal fire which he believes he’s inherited from Hemmingway. He sits on the beach and everywhere he looks and everything he thinks about is fire. It’s a bit playful, but also such an interesting way to look at ones life force. The narrator is seeing life in a consuming and beautiful way. Did you get the same message from this poem? It could be argued that he’s got a whiskey fire rather than a metaphorical one. What did you think of the title? What did you think of the titles throughout the collection.
I think collections need breaks, just like a play needs acts or a symphony needs movements. We need moments to think upon what we’ve witnessed. I especially love how each of the sections has a theme. Here we have the poet at the table telling stories of the world around him like in “Asteroid Theory” Busby takes us “halfway down / the street, almost a full run, hand in hand, / eyes to the sky, watching, keeping tabs on the future.” Then there’s the artist trying to find his place in the universe as in “Art” we’re told “It’s an art, too, staying awake till sunrise / drinking whiskey, Brad says.” Once the tales of run out of yarn and we’ve come a reckoning with the universe, every artist must shake the shadows of their artistic lineage, so yeah, Busby sets fire to Hemingway: “Hemmingway tried eating fire, / there at the end! His flame is now my flame: / In the name of blasphemy, I say this!” He devours his gods, so that somewhere in the digestion he could find his own way. So then we come to the fourth part or passage, where the poet sets a path not of his inspirations but toward those stars he may never reach as in “Living with James Schuyler,” he acknowledges “I’m beginning to dream about Bellview, / but I don’t have to finish this.” And yet all the while these trials, tribulations and manifestations take root, we are given the constant refrain of Blackbird throughout the collection. From “a moniker you get for kindly idling / your days away pumping gas” to a full rendering where
Blackbird is slow to madness.
Blackbird is slow to anger.
Blackbird is slow to fall in love
Blackbird is slow to talk about how Grace died in a car wreck in 7th grade.
Blackbird blames his father for something, but he can’t remember.
Blackbird found that set of keys that Banner threw out into the field.
Blackbird often dreams of leaving this town someday.
Blackbird is slow to get to what he wants to talk about.
And I, for one, hope that Lee Busby and Blackbird take their time because if 5th Generation Immigrant is merely a debut than I’m willing to kick back on the front porch, have a spit and Pollack up some deck boards, while this poet explains how a cartwheel will unlock the interconnectivity of this universe, and then…