A Night in Duluth is an uncertain and often tongue-in-cheek dream in which the voice of the poet makes due, speaks to what is both lost and found—to the confusion of being in an American oligarchy where poverty is growing as fast as private prisons and every bowl of soup is likely to contain a fly. Weil imagines this Duluth as a sort of dark night of the soul in which hope and cynicism can be erased as easily as grease paint from the face of a performer. There are moments of tenderness and respite, but the surreal presence of the dead informs almost all the poems and the idea of pratfall, and dead pan, the acts of making due in a diminished life and surviving by a kind of comic-tragic shtick is all pervasive. Weil considers this his most difficult and honest book. It is a puppet theater in which most of the audience is comprised of ghosts.
In these new poems, Weil turns from his past narrative voice to a lyric one, but maintains all the passion and compassion found in his previous work. As he confronts the world's absurdities, he sings with one part Jeremiad and one part praise. At times he transforms humor into vision, at others, he transforms rage into gratitude. In all of it, he shows himself to be among the vital poet-prophets of our time.
—Michael T. Young
A Night in Duluth holds forthright yet unexpected meditations on the pervasiveness of poverty, grief, and power, how each one comes back in startling instances and clings to one's memories. Weil's poems here are tender and honest about the profanities of life that outweigh the smallness of four-letter words, and in spite of the weight, he still finds grace and joy.
At the end of the poem "Dialing the Light," the narrator’s boots are "half sinking in the mud" and he offers praise. This is Joe Weil's song—born between two worlds, but ascending to the higher one. Half in the earth, half in the sky: the narrative aspects of these poems account for their physicality; the spirit is what makes them lyric. Full of curses and blessings, this book might be the place where the tight, musical skepticism of Adrian Louis meets Baudelaire's insistent search for a beauty that is changing, influenced by the industry around him. Between rooms of anger and hope, this book is a door shutting out the injurious while opening to the reader who is looking for comradery in the struggle. Joe Weil's poetry is full of benedictions willing to put up a fight.