Ugly Duckling Presse

American Songbook
American Songbook

Michael Ruby

Poetry | $17 $14
Buy"a blueprint for storming the castle"

American Songbook is a poetic response to the grand sweep of recorded vocal music in the 20th century. The poems are based on 75 recordings, with singers ranging from Bessie Smith to Tupac Shakur, and songs from a little-known Lomax prison recording to the last No.1 pop hit in the century. Many musical traditions inform the poems, including blues, jazz, gospel, country, folk, bluegrass, electric blues, R&B, rock, disco and hip hop.

Excerpt ˇ


All through the night in the house of tomorrow

There’s a little brown page waiting

bird of ice

singing Lou

Singing in the hush a memory

final marriage of the darkness and the dew

Singing in the hush the soiled elbows

foiled plot of the darkness and the dew

Would that his song scattered the leaves

the pressure point through the stillness

the wide river could go winging

the close sky could go a-winging

to you the loose bouquet

to you shoemaker


Close ˆ

About the Author

Michael Ruby
Michael Ruby is the author of five full-length poetry books: At an Intersection (Alef, 2002), Window on the City (BlazeVOX, 2006), The Edge of the Underworld (BlazeVOX, 2010), Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010) and American Songbook (UDP, 2013). His trilogy, Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (Station Hill Press, 2012), includes Fleeting Memories, a UDP web-book. He is also the author of two chapbooks, The Star-Spangled Banner (Dusie, 2011) and Close Your Eyes (Dusie, 2013). A graduate of Harvard College and Brown University’s writing program, he lives in Brooklyn and works as an editor of U.S. news and political articles at The Wall Street Journal.

Advance Praise

You can sing along to Michael Ruby's delirious new poems, your voice echoing down (to mis-quote Fred Neil) "the canyons of your mind," until you can't sing any more and the poem goes off on its own. This book is like a blueprint for storming the castle---all the little guys in the tower shooting arrows as we cross the moat. Ruby's re-orchestrated and unfiltered versions of some of the greatest hits translates into a new way of reading---sure to drive you crazy in the best way. —Lewis Warsh
With the American Songbook what Ruby has managed to do is start us off in familiar territory with a tune that most of us can hum then completely derail us by fully reconstructing the structure and spirit of the original as to render it almost unrecognizable. Ruby knows his source materials thoroughly as he extracts, interjects, interposes and interpolates from and within the original texts. Even with his mangling of subject matter and romp through America’s heartland (be it pop, blues, jazz, folk or plain old patriotic much), his obvious love for these songs, their heritage, their life-breaths, is always present. You’ll never hear The Star-Spangled Banner the same way again.—Steve Dalachinsky