by Will Schutt

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A young soldier dons Napoleon’s hat. An out-of-work man wanders Berlin, dreaming he is Peter the Great. The famous exile Dante finally returns to his native city to “hang his crown of laurels up.” Familial and historical apparitions haunt this dazzling collection of poems by Will Schutt, the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger


A young soldier dons Napoleon’s hat. An out-of-work man wanders Berlin, dreaming he is Peter the Great. The famous exile Dante finally returns to his native city to “hang his crown of laurels up.” Familial and historical apparitions haunt this dazzling collection of poems by Will Schutt, the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets award.

Coupled with Schutt’s own voice are the voices of some of Italy’s most prominent nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets including Giacomo Leopardi, Alda Merini, Eugenio Montale, and Edoardo Sanguineti. Subtle, discerning, restrained, the poems in Westerly probe a vast emotional geography, with its contingent pleasures and pains, “where the door’s always dark, the sky still blue.”

                                …some narrow sickness buried you.

                                Whatever boyhood I had

                                fate hijacked too.  Old friend, is this that

                               world we stayed awake all night for?

                                Truth dropped in.  Far off,

                                your cool hand points the way.

Editorial Reviews

The New Criterion - William Logan
“[Schutt] loves his vices more than his virtues . . . Westerly is a tour de force.”—William Logan, The New Criterion
Jeannette Haien Ballard Writers' Prize
Winner of the Jeannette Haien Ballard Writers' Prize for 2014, an annual prize given to young writers of proven excellence in poetry or prose.
Publishers Weekly
The latest winner of the venerable Yale Younger Poets Prize turns out to be terse, well-traveled, resolutely unfashionable, and, finally, wise. Westerly is a town in Rhode Island, “where nirvana is a long time/ coming... the way stupid hope won’t shut up”; it’s also a direction for American history, for personal migration (“you find yourself relieved/ your world is set in the Midwest// and facts belong to this poem”), for the roaming imagination, where “Not everyone who dreams dreams the beach.” Schutt yokes such pithy phrases to a gift for describing real places, and to a gift for memory: his longest, most painstaking poem commemorates a friend who died at 23. “Sometimes you turn to poetry/ the way you turn to another country,” an unrhymed sonnet begins, and Schutt can turn to other countries, too, with translations from modern Italian, including Montale; they sound like poems in English, and they sound continuous with the alert, serious, respectful life Schutt reveals. “Just once I’d like to end up/ on the other side of gravity,” he speculates, but his gravity—his seriousness—is one more gift; like Dan Chiasson or Jessica Greenbaum, he ends up at once contemporary, “confessional,” and quietly traditional. His debut (selected by Carl Phillips) can seem too short, but everything in it heralds a seriously important career. (Apr.)
“Schutt’s debut investigates death, life, and language with the intimate precision of a painter’s attention to a still life.”—Booklist
Chapter 16 - Maria Browning
“The poems in Westerly explore dark existential territory with a kind of shimmering intelligence, and Schutt’s imagery is unexpected and beautifully wrought.”—Maria Browning, Chapter 16
Carl Phillips
"Will Schutt's Westerly takes on nothing less than, on the one hand, the ways in which we, the living, both late and soon, make our stumbling way westward, mostly oblivious to the fact of mortality and, on the other hand, how the dead make their resonant way back to us, sometimes as memory, sometimes as guide directing us toward and through the inevitable. . . . This is a book of uncommon wisdom. . . . Its poems sustain me.  They give me hope - which may very well be, among gifts, the one we need most."—Carl Phillips

“Westerly marks the debut of a poet whose skill on the page will continue to point our way forward.”—Blackbird
Virginia Quarterly Review - John Casteen
“Schutt’s debut collection gathers disparate strands into a tightly bound weave.”—John Casteen, Virginia Quarterly Review

Product Details

Yale University Press
Publication date:
Yale Series of Younger Poets, #107
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2013 Yale University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-18850-9



    We Didn't Start the Fire

    Two doors down lived a descendant of de Sade.
      He rode a vintage Trek in a gingham shirt.
    A blue Hamsa strung around his neck
      waved when he waved. The name meant
    nearly nil to us, cluelessly humming the catalog
      of history in "We Didn't Start the Fire"—
    Harry Truman, Ho Chi Minh, Rockefeller, Roy Cohn.
      Hunting arrowheads, we made o with a haul
    of tangled wires, nickeled tubs. Some inheritance.
      Children of thalidomide, hypodermics on the shore.
    Between the cemetery and schoolhouse
      rows of thuja formed a buer. Most headstones
    looked as if an animal had rubbed his back
      up and down against them. Most hurricanes
    amounted to little more than steady drizzle.
      Townies spray-painted the bridge: "Sayonara,
    Bob" or "Safe travels, Sucker." At sunset
      summer people walked their drinks down
    to the beach—the happy human chain—
      each tethered to one spot, each for now alive.

    Golden State Sublet
    The unfurnished third-floor walk-up
    slept four to a room. We dropped our bags
    on the deep padding of the brand new
    cut and loop carpet and called it a night.
    Another summer we'd be sleeping elsewhere.
    Each morning kids from Heroica
    Nogales or Zacatecoluca or whatever the hell
    the oven was they'd shimmied up out of
    went door-to-door hawking loaves of bread
    their mothers had baked for a buck
    while their fathers hit the curb till sundown,
    then wandered back, work or no work,
    stopping most of the night on the stairwell.
    The rims of their big, far-o, lacquered eyes
    shuttered up as we stepped over them.
    Unlike their fathers, the kids sank a hook in you
    with their eyes so that it was harder to say
    "No, gracias, nada," wheel around them
    and head o for a dollop of egg fooyung
    at the Dollar Chinese or corn grilled
    husk-on and served right out in the glare
    of the pavement with a lump of paprika
    mayonnaise and a wedge of lime. Night after night
    a waitress netted our dinner from a fish tank
    crowded with bright gorgonian polyp.

    Surfing had been the whole point
    of that summer, some maundering fancy of going
    out with the tide.
We took turns with a book
    about Jack London's trip to Hawaii
    before he dropped dead at Beauty Ranch.
    Beauty Ranch, the name seemed so American,
    the rough and smooth ends of it
    elbowing each other out, how ranch stuck
    a muzzle on beauty. We called the silent
    afternoon sprawl of the ocean "Pluto Zilch,"
    sitting westward way out beyond the breakers—
    the one way we knew nothing
    would drag us under, and we could sit very still
    with the big sun fleecing our chests
    and maybe catch a glimpse of Guadalupe
    fur seals before somebody paddled by.
    "Sit there all you like, at some point
    you pussies are going to get pummeled."

    That August two pretty peroxide blond
    call girls moved in. One was hiding
    from her husband. The other was company.
    "Gringo Pimps," they called us.
    "Here for a laugh?" We just stood back,
    wanting to fuck them but afraid of the clap.
    We used to lie very still at night
    hoping to hear their voices through the wall.
    One night we heard the girls beat each other up.
    It seemed harmless enough at first.
    Mock screaming. A few halfhearted slaps.
    Then a sudden, blunt thunk
    you couldn't shake out of your ears.
    Then the awful, dumb, protracted silence.
    We lay very still in our room, one
    ear in the air, another against the carpet.

    Fragment from a Coptic Tunic

    They draped it over the dead.
      That's how it survived
    (frayed, mealy, spotted)
      as a language 10% of the population
    speaks inside a temple
      survives on the outskirts of a slum.
    Spanish, Hindu, Arabic,
      Greek, each museumgoer's headset
    murmurs in the room.
      Last week, twenty-six
    Christians were shot in Cairo.
      Neighbors marched the corpses
    through the streets, their shirts
      pursed in the heat or parted
    by a strange wind. I wonder
      what the salvo of utter faith feels like
    compared with the slightly dull
      sensation I get, skimming half
    the story ("shock—surprise—
      anger"), squaring the paper
      against") and planting it in my pocket
    like a curved blade in a sheath.

    Transparent Window on a Complex View

    Brilliant lemon morning. Tania outside
    dumping mulch. Two doorstop snowshoe
    hares by the door: winter morphs with ferruginous
    scu on their ears. Set on dishcloths,
    they're a mix of iron sconce and birch bark.
    Honey bunch in the garden. On the sill
    a Ziploc bag of permanently wet radicchio
    we bought at the farmer's market
    from kids in Carhartts who return each year
    to tend the horse-powered farm. Apostolic
    boredom in their silent straight mouths,
    they listen to the chef from the Mexican restaurant
    called El El Frijoles sautéing Quorn in soy sauce
    and talking up the nutritional value of imitation meat.
    Yuma Yellow, the light outside. An unlikely
    favorite. Not mine. Fairfield Porter's.
    He failed to jump some railroad tracks in a car
    that color. To him, what was solid was miraculous:
    planes of light, day-old eggs on a white dish,
    objects taken frankly by the hour on their own.
    No one is especially pretty or monstrous
    posed on his lupine and dandelion couch:
    Running socks. A red hat. A rocking horse.
    That which was real, and changing, and light.

    Beach Lane

    It's a tunnel of sorts. They're all tunnels, I guess,
    even Further Lane and Muchmore Drive,
    which would have us believe beyond the sagging
    split-rail fence lies the answer to an urban
    dream. Not everyone who dreams dreams the beach.
    For a while dead-ends are in vogue. For a while
    open, uncharted cities. Years go by and all we've done is stare
    at the ocean from one end of a mile-long lane
    with our human eyeballs subject to the brain's commotion.
    This was my boyhood, if you cared: the long
    sweet coastal glide to paradise. Babinski raking his father's
    field with a sprained wrist, endless ears of corn
    left on the cornstalk firing out of their husks almost
    edible. Memory Lane also mystifies: the sun
    dwindling in a stream, me rewinding some hopeful words:
    "Remembering is nice": and all the early anger
    leaks out of my heart: then and now, home and boyhood:
    there was a time that was enough to make
    my head spin: reading another old stiff scanning the surf
    for his floating face: same thought, same forms
    of thought following their accidental beeline, like the few
    undying oystermen taking a detour to the tavern
    off Sagg Road, where the door's always dark, the sky still blue.

    Wild Hogs

    The whole coast within eyeshot.
      I can count the ribs of the ocean—
    Caribbean blue, Atlantic green,
      Caribbean blue—and patches of hillside
    wild hogs have stripped. "Look
      away," says the hill, covering her face,
    soaping her cheeks with a cloud.
      But I'm human and can't help myself
    any more than hogs can. I go on
      looking at the bright bathers as they step
    out of the ocean to towel off
      with their bright, Testarossa red towels
    like God's laughter. It all starts
      with shame and want, I think, and ends
    in shamelessness and want not.
      I can stand here so still a cicada might
    mistake me for a stump and stab
      my bare leg to its bare heart's content.

    From a Middle Distance

    At this moment I'm sitting in the sun
    leafing through a book
    on Velázquez with a pithy line
    about his having painted mankind
    because he couldn't see angels.
    Exuberant, out of style, its Edwardian
    era prose makes me blush,
    eighteen again and gut-struck by ideas
    I've just discovered in art
    house films. I called movies films
    back then. My labored hyperbole
    put most people to sleep.
    Now lunch is meager: steamed
    asparagus, a glass of lemon water.
    I'm learning to suck wind—
    an old phrase of my father's
    who'd drop words like copacetic with a wink
    standing under a windmill
    in tennis whites scuffed with clay
    where he'd fallen during a match.
    It's funny to see the bare trees
    stunned out of their comas
    by this unseasonable January
    mopping the yard in lambent apricot
    strokes, or watch snowmelt
    disappearing in creeks
    that politely disappear in the river.
    Everything appears equally important
    if all of it's to be gotten over:
    ideas, styles, and incidents
    of greater impact, which are personal
    and therefore alone in me
    translating into a yellowish morbidity.
    "Speak well of me,"
    says my father, and I offer
    only knotted phrases that do not speak,
    digging further into the book's
    detail of Las Meninas: the narrow
    face of a rousing mastiff
    whose dark narrow eyes betray
    knowing, which is to say restraint.

    Forgetting Waukesha, Remembering St. Helena

    Forget the evenings of Slivovitz and sloe berry.
    Forget drawing the immemorial
    o-white latch. Forget willows on the banks
    and the willow slips from whence.
    All that you try with your mouth can be summoned:
    boats the family sank by chopping
    holes in the hull when they couldn't afford
    Hoover's levy and children resorted
    to rides on the dumbwaiter to spirit those prolonged

    Wisconsin winters. At Napoleon's funeral,
    a young foot soldier tried fitting on
    the emperor's hat, hoping to spring to life
    for the lachrymose officers and ladies
    gathered in cool St. Helena. Having homage
    and well-meaning mime in mind.
    They were, after all, shutting Napoleon
    inside four cons as if he'd breathe like a potato.
    It had that solemn air of the ridiculous,
    you know, the soldier not getting his hat on square.

    Postcard of Peter Lorre Embracing Lotte Lenya, 1929

    Momentarily he's my young father
    refusing to break the news he's been laid off
    and lay the groundwork for divorce. It's difficult to explain.
    The mind rehearses, playing dress-up with a life.
    He cannot hook the woman, his pinkies trained
    perpendicularly. A vintage dress shirt slips from the line.
    Pulling away in the middle of a dance, dancers become
    movement on a floor—off-white, chamois. In his silence,
    who is she, closing her eyes, four strands of her boy's hair
    combed purposefully aside, allowing the white
    of her raincoat to mask him? Mother, wife, coat.
    She arches her back to receive his despondent head.
    She pus up her small breasts. Soft music's at work again,
    a stereo plays "Love is Tender," romancing the age.
    For six months my father dressed for work and wandered
    no one will ever know where, Hotel Kempinski, say,
    where he sat mutely in the plush barber's chair
    dreaming he was as tall and modern as Peter the Great.

    Flywheel with Variable Inertia

    Home of Deanna Durbin
    Home of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
    Home of Cary Grant ...

    Like dreamy memento mori
    little photos of each actor float
    above each home in the picture postcards
    tinged fraying sunset, tinged
    bird of paradise, set in frames
    and hung among "Hollywood's Treasures"
    in the Los Angeles County
    Library Annenberg collection
    next to Chinese menus and crate labels
    advertising citrus fruit—
    California's "Second Gold Rush."

    We live so strangely, in love with visions,
    scared of the invisible. Once,
    driving down a hill in Los Feliz,
    I saw water rocket up twenty-five feet
    out of the concrete at the busy
    intersection below. Firemen ditched
    their fire trucks on the corner;
    they could only watch and coach
    each of us through that airborne
    bother of water, hoping we'd use caution
    till the water wound itself down
    or some brainiac from the DPW
    devised a scheme to plug the hole—they couldn't,
    after all, close trac—and from
    the top of the hill every car tipped
    toward the water's pearly drywall
    then paled and vanished
    beneath a tumble of water, the train of us
    cabled like rollercoaster cars
    yahooing our lungs hoarse with the doors
    locked and the windows rolled.
    Then you were deep in it.
    You had to squint to see the brake lights
    of the guy ahead of you, whispering
    the same prayer you whispered
    to make it over to the other side.
    What a pleasure on the tongue
    saying "Rancho Cucamonga."

    The city that had its way with us,
    that wound us on its laugh track, where is it
    going? Oceans of lime-colored
    puage are adrift, yet an actress cups her mouth
    when she spots me blowing smoke
    trying to create something
    in a Hollywood courtyard
    out of the stillness of that courtyard
    the leaves of banyans cover.
    Wigged and wingèd movie stars.
    Arroyo willow jutting up from tar pits.
    La Brea's redundancy of dire
    wolf bones scooped from the mud
    and posed in a mise-en-scène—
    hunters frozen in that suck of heat.
    I must look a little like death
    fixing his spell over the turquoise trim,
    smiling his odd smile at the feast
    of ailments, dancing his danse macabre ...
    Just once I'd like to end up
    on the other side of gravity, on varying
    inversions of water—circuitous, coasting,
    making its way up the winding stairs.
    Here we are in Ocean City, Here we're in Beloit

    American Window Dressing

    Half a dozen pestemals hanging on hooks,
      a cuckoo clock twigged from scrap metal,
    a single copy of Everyman's Haiku
      the letters pit the cover's look-at-me
    moon sheen—and the poems I love
      inside: spartan, semitransparent, nature's fools,
    like faraway countries in full disclosure.

    "Put everything into it." My father's
      words on Sunday visits. Man of few words.
    Those were the days work took him
      as far as Chungking and he sported
    a straight green army coat he called
      his Mao Suit. His hair was still parted
    straight to one side and he could

    still lift me up so that I stood eyelevel
      with row after row of ducks, like smokers'
    lungs, in the restaurant windows
      off Confucius Plaza—thick tar up top
    swizzed into brown and rose gold.
      A metal sling dug under their wings
    ended in a hole the heads were put through.

    Knowledge of them was terrible.
      Everything looked terrible: more heads
    of bok choy noosed in rubber bands
      and pale-eyed fish laid out on ice. Terrible
    things put delicately, like polite fictions
      families invent. The words stand behind
    great portals and are seen, yet untouchable.


Excerpted from Westerly by WILL SCHUTT. Copyright © 2013 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Carl Phillips
Will Schutt's Westerly takes on nothing less than, on the one hand, the ways in which we, the living, both late and soon, make our stumbling way westward, mostly oblivious to the fact of mortality and, on the other hand, how the dead make their resonant way back to us, sometimes as memory, sometimes as guide directing us toward and through the inevitable. . . . This is a book of uncommon wisdom. . . . Its poems sustain me.  They give me hope - which may very well be, among gifts, the one we need most.—Carl Phillips

Meet the Author

Will Schutt’s poems and translations have appeared in Agni, A Public Space, FIELD, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the Stadler Center for Poetry and the James Merrill House, he currently lives in New York City.

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