56 Reasons You’re Wrong/Right About New Jersey

Posted: August 2, 2009 in Poetry Endorsements

Tony Gruenewald
The Secret History of New Jersey

Concerning poets, Tom House once noted that “now and again / a good one learns / laughter.” Living in New Jersey, one needs a good sense of humour partly because, as a resident, you and your state are always being laughed at and, as the collective butts of jokes, “we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh” (Friedrich Nietzsche). Fully aligned with the message of this pairing is a homegrown poet, Tony Gruenewald, whom I met years and years ago and taught me by example that poetry can be funny, poignant, and obscenely beautiful.

There are many gems in The Secret History of New Jersey, a follow-up to Gruenewald’s first book – Headlines from The Daily Grind, and almost all of them are an in-joke. That’s not to say the humour is unrecognizable to outsiders, however. Tony uses a blend of allegory, parody, and Billy Collins-like insight into the everyday workings of those forced to endure the place we call home as much reluctantly as we do proudly to let anyone identify with the speaker and share in the self-deprecation. Some poems might even be called urban pastorals, which never cease to enthrallingly expose/illuminate/wallow in the dichotomy between New Jersey’s natural beauty and over-development. An example:

Bound Brook Train Station
Like bare branched trees
skewering fire seared soil
antenna limbs shiver naked
atop abandoned brownstones
planted along apathy scorched asphalt,

scratching at skies
saturated with electronic signals
and sunlight
that no longer
spark any of them
to life.

His talent is not constrained to image-driven curtness. Consider, also, the title piece, which is a narrative that humourously displaces timelines and augments history to become a poetic piece of NJ propaganda.

The Secret History of New Jersey

It is believed by some
that the apostle Paul
sowed the seeds
of the first
jug handle
when he wrote
in his much disputed
and in some traffic circles
deeply discredited
second epistle
to the Colonians that
all turns,
even those to the left
should indeed begin
from the lane of right.

This was written
during the brief reign
of the vastly under appreciated
Emperor Secaucus,
who passed through
the town now bearing his name
to review his troops
when the Roman Empire
sprawled its most westward
after conquering the last
Greek diner
located on
the outskirts
of Sparta.

After that, history unfurled
pretty much as reported
except that
nearly a millennium
after Paul’s letter
to the Leonians
Vikings started
to settle
while to the south
Vandalized villagers
commemorated their plight by
building a bridge proclaiming
Trenton Makes The World Takes.

Guenewald makes as much use of the sound of language as he does its meanings, every which one his twisted mind creates in its own twisted image(ry)…which just happens to be things you can actually see in New Jersey. Here, poet serves as translator, proclamator, and lover for his home state. Like all good lovers, he takes the good with the bad. Like all good poets, he makes both a delight to read. Some other samples of his work can be found linked to on his website and on amazon.com (click the cover)…more than enough material that will convince you to buy the book.

  1. yotteiru says:

    I dunno…it would take a hell of a lot for me to start appreciating New Jersey….. If Bon Jovi, the Boss, and Sinatra couldn’t overcome….

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