Ryler Dustin
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Ryler Dustin

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The best kept secret in music


"Ryler's newest book reviewed"

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Manda Fredericks, Staff Writer

Heavy Lead Birdsong
by Ryler Dustin
WriteBloody Publishing, 2008

Sitting down to read Heavy Lead Birdsong in order to write this review, I began, at once, jotting down specific lines that were so good, I felt you needed to know them - you needed these lines to be in your head even if you were to never pick up this book. But you should pick up this book. Because once I'd finished reading the collection (without stopping, I might add) and taking notes, I realized that I'd filled several pages of my yellow legal pad - I had basically copied the bulk of the book by hand. So the short of this review: Ryler Dustin's poetry is stunning and it wants to be read. By you.

But specifically?

Heavy Lead Birdsong is a hybrid of poems by Dustin and images by Chelsea Thoumsin, Tiara Anderson and Scott Winters - the sketches are as faint and curious as ghosts. A common theme in the art depicts fragments of bodies, which matches the emotional origin that Dustin lays out in the foreword, admitting that these poems come from a place of authentic hardship. One of my favorite sketches shows two embracing anguished bodies with tree roots for feet, which mimics the resonance of Dustin's poems: struggle grounds us in humanness, suffering binds us with humanity. Though the poems are confessional and autobiographical, Dustin achieves universal emotional appeal with honesty, metaphor, and a blurred sense of the horrific and the beautiful - two quietly alarming examples:

[I find myself] giving birth
like violent red ribbons in the tundra


We were cartographers lost
in the country of ourselves

Both images imply creation and control muddied by isolation and destructiveness - feelings to which we all can relate. (And when Dustin writes, Dear reader, we are the same, you believe him.) The book is riddled with fresh, tension-deep lines, lines that are not logical but feel true all the same. Poet Christopher Howell says that a poem is a truly good when the reader experiences it so fully that she actually feels as though she had written the poem herself - by that standard, Dustin writes truly good poems.

At close to forty pieces, this collection gives you a lot to consider, especially since the substance is subterranean - the experience of the collection feels volcanic, threatening to come up through the surface of the language at any time.

Spend your money on Heavy Lead Birdsong. If you can't afford it, I'll lend you mine.

Manda Frederick is a small-town Midwestern girl who is thrilled to now live in an area where people read poetry. She has her MFA in Creative Nonfiction.
- Poetrynight Newsletter


Poetry Collections:

Heavy Lead Birdsong (WriteBloody, 2008)

The Lantern Sea (Destructible Heart Press, 2004)




Ryler Dustin was twenty years old when he set aside his forth unfinished novel after stumbling upon a local poetry reading. He was shocked to learn that poetry wasn't just what he'd been taught in high school: that it didn't have to sound archaic, wasn't simply a word puzzle with one correct answer, and hadn't ended with Shakespeare.

Intrigued by its ability to make an audience stand up and cheer for poetry, he began to attend the Seattle Poetry Slam, a weekly competition in which authors battle for the favor of a crowd. Within the span of only two of years, he'd secured a place on two Seattle Slam Teams and appeared on the final stage of the Individual World Poetry Slam.

Ryler has headlined at poetry venues across the U.S., from the Nuyorican Poets Café to Washington State University. He is a winner of the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest, the Bart Baxter Poetry Competition and the Evergreen Invitational Slam. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Bridging the gap between slam poetry and the academy, Ryler’s work appears in numerous literary journals and was awarded the Editor’s Choice prize from Meridian. His dedication to the craft of writing and to reading contemporary academic poets led him to serve as an associate editor to two literary magazines, including the nationally distributed Gulf Coast.