The poems in Al Ortolani's newest collection, Waving Mustard in Surrender, come from the streets of Kansas City and the farm roads of Southeast Kansas. His narratives are as much at home on asphalt as they are in bean fields. The natural world is common to the many facets of this collection. Like birds, his poems fly with striking images—as accessible as crank-pot crows, assassin herons, or starlings startled by cannon shot. There's a good deal of wind and spit, flower and piss in a poetry where tornadoes and baseball are not incongruous to a single summer evening. His characters are tough and smart. They revel in a lingering city decadence and messy small town beauty.
As if convinced that these poems are the accidentally recovered relics of a civilization of humans trying to make sense of a swiftly changing world, Al Ortolani has given us in Waving Mustard in Surrender, a novel's worth of characters, voices, moods and moments offered with tenderness, detail and an indefatigable fascination with the quotidian graces of our lives. We walk away renewed in the comfort and sublimity of story and ordinary language deftly rendered.
—Kwame Dawes, author of Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems
Al Ortolani's heart is in the landscapes of Midwest and with its farmers, laborers, and
ne'er-do-wells. He writes of these masterfully in language that’s straightforward in the
best sense, none of the current trend toward oblique "difficulty." From lyric to satiric, realistic to surreal, the poems in Waving Mustard in Surrender welcome you into a
world where the ordinary takes on the luster of the extraordinary and where comedy can
cohabit with heartbreak.
—William Trowbridge, Missouri Poet Laureate, author of Put This On, Please: New and Selected Poems
Al Ortolani writes tough-minded poems of wit and intelligence. Here, a fairytale evolves with the times, as even Hansel and Gretel's witch has user names, street names, like Honey Buns, so we renew with such poems our childhood terrors, loves, and fascinations. Much of the magic lies in how a real poet energizes his own life stories through the power of allusions, enlisting characters from the poet Lorca to the border raider Quantrill. No poem is one-dimensional. The title poem, in three parts, for example, takes on jazz and dance and poetry and local ribs and more, a dazzling combination of images, showing what it means to be alive now in both body and mind.
—Robert Stewart, Editor, New Letters
A book of poetry is sometimes like a river, and to enter it is to take a risk—one may cruise lightly in its waters, or be swept to a disaster as inescapable as it is sure. To read the poems in Waving Mustard in Surrender is to slip effortlessly through complex waters, secure in the knowledge that you’re riding with a man who knows the secrets of the river he has himself conceived. There are twists and turns, swells and snags. There are crumbling banks and sure footing. There are sweet spots and rough, rapids, shoals and unexpected currents. And throughout, there's a cardinal sense of direction and purpose which has to be ridden in its entirety to fully comprehend. This book's a poetic river—and I predict you'll emerge from the experience of it as refreshed and fulfilled as a swimmer who has bathed in exquisitely nuanced waters. Straight up, Al Ortolani has given us a book of poetry to cherish, convincing in its quietude, its turbulence and its steady grace.
—George Wallace, Writer in Residence, Walt Whitman Birthplace