Nightclub America, Tom Barlow

Diane Corson, Of the Sea


Nightclub America


I’ll Cut Your Throat is a nightclub
every American has heard of /
located in the best neighborhood /
the cover charge is a barrier to most,

yet the club is packed every night
with those who crave novelty /
their garments outshine the peacock / 
one after another they line up for

the promised shave / face, legs /
and every risktaker who walks away
with skin smooth as water shames those
who hesitate / among the crowd is a couple

from Kansas who have never given up
trying to understand their son’s murder /
they watch with fascination as couples
take to the dance floor under laser lights /

their switchblades flashing / the pistols at
their hips bouncing with every pirouette /
their ammo belts leave creases across
their chests / shoes slide through the blood

thick on the floor / and limp bodies are
dragged through the most popular dances
on TikTok / then when the DJ fires
an AR-15 round into the ceiling to announce

a dance contest / the dancers all raise their
hands and pretend they have been gut shot /
and everyone is having so much fun
they refuse to count their wounds.

Tom Barlow


Review by Mykyta Ryzhykh

Almost immediately (even from the title) I had a clear association: Allen Ginsberg “America, I gave you everything, and now I’m nothing.” Epochs change, poems also change, but something remains the same.

On the one hand, glamorous and glossy, and on the other hand, bright, in some way (in my opinion) climactic lines look eerily: “on TikTok / then when the DJ fires/ an AR-15”.


Review by Massimo Fantuzzi

The repeated attempts that have been made to improve humanity – in particular to make it more peaceable – have failed, because nobody has understood the full depth and vigor of the instincts of aggression innate in each individual. Such efforts do not seek to do more than encourage the positive, well-wishing impulses of the person while denying or suppressing his aggressive ones. And so they have been doomed to failure from the beginning. (Melanie Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation & Other Works 1921-1945)

In pugilistic terms, this poem could be described as a liver shot; what we hear, see, smell, taste, and touch cut our legs out from underneath. It is our dark side – sent in a frenzy by the scent of blood, the perennially thirsty, tribal side that repels us to the core. It is the brothers and sisters we don’t want to be associated with, the wild ones, the ones that know us best. It has never gone away – it is the hungry spirit of destruction that has driven almost all of our metabolism, discoveries and acts of creation. Or did we really believe that a couple of decades of the internet, a leased car, a Netflix account, and a local gym card could sublimate millennia of practices and put to sleep impulses of the most natural affair?

True: sometimes, someone pays the ultimate price for their curiosity, naivete, or simply bad luck. It hurts; it leaves families broken and us indignant to point fingers shouting barbarism! But don’t call it unnatural. Unnatural for us (as far as one can guess) would be to breathe underwater or to stick upside-down from the ceiling; spilling blood (although in some cases restricted by law and forbidden, whilst in others promoted, taught and even rewarded) sits and sings comfortably within our cords, caroused, even, in our most celebrated rites.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood –
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good. (T.S. Eliot, East Coker)


Review by Jared Pearce

The tension between the reality the poem illuminates and the tone through which the poem illuminates that reality is on the one hand terrible and, on the other, wonderful.  I suspect that tension is another name for the poem’s delight.


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