“Hype over substance” is the new American motto as readers are told in the prolegomenon of American Elegies (World Audience Publishers, 2008). The poet, Louis Phillips, has mourned this degradation in a unique, America-centric verse.
Phillips’ view takes for its reference Johnny Inkslinger (Paul Bunyan’s smart chef), implying a sharp eye and good consideration for the subject adopted into verse. Johnny Inkslinger engages in virtual travels, rendezvous, and memories of people, places, things, and events—all American—that left a mark on American thought. Battles, Native American land and animals, Hollywood, sports, politics, art and literature, and more—Johnny Inkslinger makes sure not to miss on anything.
The mood of these poems is mostly contemplative, and not plaintive in the more traditional, classic elegiac style. Some poems read much more critically, a few even getting satirical. But the imagery, mostly from memories of past American events, things, and places, dilutes the mood sufficiently to impart the feel of an adventurous, slightly nostalgic travel in what America has been; in what it has seen.
What makes it difficult for an average, and in particular non-American, reader is that these poems are full of allusions (not unexpectedly) to American history, icons, culture, and literature. A well-read reader, however, with sound knowledge of Americana will surely find it a treasure of thoughts connecting America’s past and its present. The ending of the books is more overtly plaintive: disappointment in America’s lack of morals.