“Dreesen presents an unusual and welcoming memoir-in-verse, an epic colloquial journey through his childhood in a chaotic, eight-kid family as they ran a 24-hour highway truck stop and popular roadhouse in Nebraska. Dreesen portrays the intriguing characters they met as well as the characters they became . . . Dreesen expertly plays with language, cadence, texture, emotion, memory, and facts to impart the sense that all our knowledge is ‘second hand,’ full of miscomprehension of other people and their perceptions, and yet our experiences are precious, our stories illuminating.”
“And what I’m about to tell you can’t be told
straight, so needs to be contained by form,
for the tale is messy and meandering,
if not downright weedy and windy
as all the characters who blew through our lives
back then and who we had to bend into,
grimacing and hunched over, holding hands
so as not to lose one another, sieve.”
In his imaginative memoir-in-verse, Robert Dreesen captures the stop-and-start rhythm of growing up in his family’s 24-hour truck stop and drinkin’ and dancin’ bar alongside the Pan-American Highway in northeastern Nebraska. In a life that can be described as picaresque, Kenny, Rose, and their eight kids make their way through a world rich with farmers and ranchers, writers and painters, drunks and ne’er-do-wells, horses and dogs, imagined visits from poet-sages, insufficient money (but not poverty), fights, siblings, honor, booze, and the Missouri River.
PRAISE FOR ROBERT DREESEN'S BOOKS:
"I’m still marveling at not only the artistry of this book, the playful erudition of it, the sheer entertainment of the storytelling, but also the life (harrowing and joyous) and place that inspired it. If that life wouldn't create a writer, I don't know what would. The details are terrific . . . Dreesen has captured a time and a place perfectly."
—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-chief, Ploughshares on I Don't Smoke Enough to Quit
"The poems in Robert Dreesen’s I Don't Smoke Enough to Quit may be set in a truck stop bar but its ‘cricks’ are deep, concealing the poet’s family’s loving reticence—‘for anything declared might be taken away’—with raucous living. Dreesen, for whom two pianos in the room resembled ‘two horses in the pasture resting heads on one another’s rumps,’ carries this blank verse tribute to his father from ‘engine whisperers’ to ‘a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.’ I Don't Smoke Enough to Quit tells a sad, sure story with a wallop of an ending.”
—Terese Svoboda, author of Black Glasses Like Clark Kent on I Don't Smoke Enough to Quit
"Robert Dreesen's debut chapbook titled 20th Century Tool Shed constructs a narrative that simmers as he chisels a penetrating commentary on the modern world. With dexterity, Dreesen creates precise poems that matter to us, where 'The Shovel is willful, / God of the Old Testament / before he 'got religion.' These poems are full and contain sharp insights into ourselves and our histories."
—Michael Catherwood, author of Projector on 20th Century Tool Shed
Read an excerpt from Part I: I Ain’t Lewis and You Ain’t Clark
I’m surprised we all turned up
after the storm and weren’t scattered throughout the fields
like crimsoned snow geese after a hunt,
the dogs bringing us back to the gunners
who brought us down from the sky with their aim.
The bar and station were the world outside
the Encyclopedia Britannica
we had at home—a concession to a middle-class life
that always seemed beyond
the horizon—along with an upright piano.
Twenty-four years the truck stop served as meeting house,
packing house and clearing house, house
of the rising sun and house of no fun
if you had to work there on nights gone wrong too fast.
The world walked through that doubtful door
to show us boys, as Rose called us, what sure
was out there waiting, what didn’t shine or smile
but walked right back to the beer cooler
or disappeared into the bathroom
only to walk right out the front door, turn back
and say, You got a goddamn problem, kid?
The pissing East Coast and West Coast elites,
the filmmakers and marketers, don’t know
what they’re dealing with in the Midwest,
as if an accent and silence around
the dinner table, conveyed by a black
and white art movie, could catch who’s hiding
in a culvert at the end of a country lane.
The graveyard shift was interesting until
it wasn’t, until the traffic slowed
and your friends went home and your body buzzed
from all the candy bars and ice cream
and pop; and soon the sugar high would
drop, surely as the silence while you watched
the clock and shivered, listening for the ding ding
of the driveway bell, then argued whose turn
it was to go outside and pump some gas.
The truck stop went bankrupt eponymously,
for Kenny knew how to make a dollar
but didn’t know the value of a penny,
and you can bank on that, and if you can’t,
well, Kenny will let you charge it, no doubt.
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Robert J. Dreesen is a publisher of scholarly books in New York City, where he has lived for the past thirty years. He is the author of 20th Century Tool Shed, a poetry collection. Dreesen returns to Nebraska every fall for an annual trip up the Missouri River with his brothers-in-bottle called “I Ain’t Lewis and You Ain’t Clark.”