Why I Chose Peter Mishler’s Fludde for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club

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The opening poem of Peter Mishler’s debut collection Fludde, forthcoming from Sarabande Books (and winner of the Kathryn A. Morton prize), is titled “Old World,” and the opening lines let us know that we’re going to somewhere unusual at the very least: “I am collecting insects / from the ground / before the water table / turns on us again.” That’s our entry into Mishler’s surreal pastoral, with suggestions of future dystopia thrown in. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is, but Mishler’s deft grasp of image as well as his unique voice keep these poems immediate and engaging.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Fludde, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Peter Mishler, you’ll need to to subscribe by April 20!

Look at the way Mishler brings these elements together in this selection from “Mild Invective”:

Four deer step
onto the embankment
bedside the Sunoco
at dawn, champing
and misting their breath.
And I’m shaving in my car
which doesn’t matter.
The deer have their luxuries
I can’t condemn,
and the elderly
fly their small crafts
above us, with cancer
and in love.
I feel I must become
religious for a time
as each new vision
is projected
from my mouth.
This isn’t jealousy.

We’re in a border area here, where nature and city meld, but we’re at a point in the future with flying crafts but no cure for cancer and the speaker, who’s been shaving in his car, has visions projected from his mouth. It’s a fascinating landscape. And the speaker? He moves from being embarrassed in the first line to concerned in the twenty-first, and the last two words in the poem are “plainly unanswerable.”

Here’s where I make a confession. For a long time, I’ve found this mode of poetry frustrating. I can enjoy the ways the words rub together in moments, but I want more directness, a sense that the poem is doing more than playing games. And maybe the change I’m noticing when I read this book is in me. Maybe I, as a reader, hadn’t been ready for this style of work in the past, and I’m more ready now (which would be great, though it will make my reading backlog even more unmanageable!). I don’t know for certain.

But I do know that I kept coming back to these poems, prodding them, and most importantly to me, trusting that Mishler had a purpose behind his odd juxtapositions. I’m looking forward to talking about these poems, and I hope you’ll join us in May as we read and discuss Fludde first together, and then with Peter Mishler in our exclusive online chat. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by April 20 to make sure you don’t miss out on this challenging, worthwhile debut collection!


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is the Poetry Editor for The Rumpus, and teaches poetry at Drake University. More from this author →