John Gosslee's Blitzkrieg, a new collection of multi-media non-fiction and poetry, is not for the traditionalist, but for the adventurer. In just fifty-five pages, Gosslee challenges readers to re-draw the geography of poetry they've always known and to join him on his nation-wide blitzkrieg: "a surprise artistic assault by massed electronic, air, sea and ground forces under close coordination." And really, the book is exactly that.
Blitzkrieg opens with a sequence of thirteen poems as portraits of U.S. cities. In most of the poems, the identities of the cities are left to the reader's imagination or hinted at via subtle clues. Readers are presented with vivid images that are clear and specific yet oddly surreal, such as in "The Habit,"
I unscrew the caps
roll the white pills in my hand
a waterfall composes an opus in the glass
Gosslee's conversational tone throughout the sequence allows the unusual imagery to emerge as striking and unexpected: "cheap perfume strikes like a stray cat on a dumpster rat." We're also given psychologically challenging lines:
she looks at him as if the letters on his face
spell god over and over
Gosslee closes this sequence with a final 12-line poem, each line and the title pulled directly from a previous poem in the sequence.
And then the true mission begins: the poem "Portrait of an Inner Life," which the poet explains resulted from a dramatic breakthrough in his writing style, is traveling the world. In pages of prose, we follow the story of the poem from its inception through is first publications, praise, and finally Gosslee's plan to share it with the world. While the writer-editor correspondences and reviews might strike a nerve of conceit for some, I found Gosslee's unusual expose-all decision to include them most interesting. He titles this section "Migration of Portrait of an Inner Life" and describes the feelings of excitement so many of us face when a particularly dear-to-us poem has been picked up for publication. With the inclusion of the poem's life and story, Gosslee explodes the "rules" set by tradition which have guided writers for centuries, and propels himself into experimental territory.
The collection goes on to chronicle a six-month tour during which Gosslee, with the help of street teams in cities across the U.S., printed the poems on stickers and, in a sort of guerilla-style poetry vandalism, posted them in locations from bathroom walls to gas pumps to lamp posts and beyond. The poem was also printed on paper and rolled into hundreds of green glass bottles, which were tossed into rivers, streams, and whatever bodies of water the team encountered. I even found myself snickering through a tale or two of close encounters with police and security guards.
Gosslee closes his collection with a final section titled "Ephemera," made up of photos of the bottles in lines, the stickers in place, and sample illustrations that were included in the bottled versions and other publications.
I expect my one disappointment with Blitzkrieg might be shared be other poetically-inclined readers: it's quite short on the poetry I enjoyed so much in the first pages. While Gosslee's adventures were a fascinating peek into the author's life that's rarely shared with us in books of poetry, we're given the chance to read just fourteen poems from cover to cover and left hungering for more of Gosslee's profound and meditative verse. For those most intrigued by the adventure, however, Blitzkrieg has an online presence allowing readers to purchase the musical score composed for the opening poem sequence along with an "assault package" containing the book, stickers, and other materials needed to "join the blitzkrieg."
As potentially the first of its kind, Blitzkrieg is poetry for the masses. Together with his team of composers, illustrators and co-conspirators, John Gosslee has written his way into a unique world in which art is what joins us all.
KASEY ERIN PHIFER-BYRNE is an MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she serves as the managing editor of Devil's Lake. Her poetry appears in Hayden's Ferry Review and Spillway, among others. In her spare time, she dances and grows medicinal plants.