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In Order to Form a More Perfect Union

Publication Date: April 2012


E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. Easier said than done, according to TJ Beitelman’s dazzling poetry collection, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union. In this intricately layered and obliquely linked sequence of aubades, elegies, curses, and fractured mythic narratives, Beitelman susses out the complicated calculus of forming a viable whole from a necessarily uncertain sum of imperfectly assorted parts. Making homage to a representative cast of true Americans-Bob Dylan, William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, and none other than the timelessly tragic trio of John Hinckley, Jodie Foster, and Ronald Reagan-this is a book concerned with discerning the truest truths we hold to be self-evident, whether forging a new nation, facing a lover for the very last time, or attempting-without any real reason-to believe in the better version of ourselves.


“The reach of this exuberant and anguished book is potent, and made more so by the force of restraint. The subjects TJ Beitelman encounters here-beauty, love, sin, being, thought, felicity-are driven through the sieve of American culture, and out comes fragments, the leavings of what we were once instructed to value. Part of the edifice is gone, eroded, demeaned, cheapened, misused. At some point, however, the voice behind these deadpan yet lyrically fluid poems realizes how naïve it would be to reject outright the grace of descent, because that would erase the possibility of coming back. This is a book about coming back, coming back to being whole and wholly changed. And what a moving, intelligent, and measured book it is.”

-Maurice Manning

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union is a book obsessed with divisions…narrative ones, yes-love stories end in daggers, road trips end in cliffs…but also other sorts of fissures. When Beitelman writes the word half-hearted, he means not desultory but desperately searching (in material ranging pretty much from Homer to Hollywood) for the missing half.  And these breaks are, in his sensibility, ‘a blessed thing.’ It is spectacular to watch his poems upend everything. In this book, the paint squeezes its artist from the tube. The facts are not to be believed, but you will ardently believe that they are facts.”

-Darcie Dennigan

Jam-packed with the materials of American history and culture, TJ Beitelman’s poems are wonders to behold, set loose and spinning across forms, eras, and landscapes. From hopeful new-dawn visions to dark Jeremiads to softly flowing elegies, they capture voices and ideas from the main stems of American thought, with a smart, questioning energy that’s remarkable to follow. The book ultimately leads to a rocketing road trip into American politics, music, and dreams unlike any other you’ll ever find-hilarious, mysterious, brilliant and absurd in all the right ways, just like the U.S.A.”

-Jim Murphy

About the Author

TJ Beitelman

TJ Beitelman is a writer, teacher, and manuscript consultant living in Birmingham, Alabama. He’s published a novel, John the Revelator, and a collection of short fiction, Communion, as well as three collections of poetry: In Order to Form a More Perfect UnionAmericana, and This Is the Story of His Life, all from Black Lawrence Press. His stories and poems have appeared widely in literary magazines, and he’s received fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham. He taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where he earned an M.A. in English, and at the University of Alabama, where he earned an M.F.A. in creative writing and also edited Black Warrior Review. He currently directs the creative writing program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham. He can be found on-line at tjbman.me.

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