"Tailgating at the Gates of Hell," a SarasotaDay introspective on Justin Karcher
Riding on the back of a road trip that both becalmed and inspired, Justin Karcher finally put the finishing touches to his collection of poems, “Tailgating at the Gates of Hell and Other Poems.”
Published by Ghost City Press and Illustrated by Michael Biondo who works in Sarasota, more than 30 poems of sometimes acidic, often rueful, but always thought provoking works provide a bullseye-accurate snapshot of Karcher’s experiences and perspective about his hometown of Buffalo, NY and Florida.
No different from them, walking around AM Buffalo
Listening to Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours”
On my first generation iPod, feeling all distant
And sleep deprived, floating on a star-shaped balloon
I Love Being Sleep Deprived in Buffalo
Karcher explains his intention with “Tailgating…” is to try and explore a cultural conversation between Florida and Buffalo. He says he’s constantly amazed at the amount of people he meets on his travels throughout the nation who have lived in, or are originally from, Buffalo.
“With the book, you get a really nice combination of two different geographical cultures and in the end, it really forms this idea of America (as cheesy as that might sound), rising from the grit to reach the sun. After all, why don't different regions in America have more artistic relationships with one another? It will always create a great atmosphere, a tapestry of different emotions.”
Sam and I were trying to make it with these baristas
And we were all pretty drunk on gas station wine
And the pheromones were lifting weights,
And it smelled like air conditioner mildew.
All Balloons Must Pop, All Animals Must Die
“I took a trip to the South earlier this year, basically to go to the Bonnaroo Festival,” he says.
“Although the collection has a narrative arc which relates to growing up in the Rust Belt, a lot of the work has been inspired by Florida. After I left the Festival I travelled south. I found a calm and reflective mood almost immediately after I crossed the Georgia State line.”
Similarly, he found that Florida, like Buffalo, is a place where you’re either reclaiming your youth, or relaxing and enjoying your older years.
But he wonders if cities can connect using their unique cultural identities and cites that Buffalo has a burgeoning, intimate arts scene much like Sarasota.
“We’re clearly all American, but only when we have sports to connect us. There doesn’t seem to me that there’s deal of importing and exporting our urban cultures.”
Trying his best to prove his theory wrong, Karcher asked Sarasota resident Michael Biondo to illustrate “Tailgating.”
“Michael’s originally from Buffalo and we worked in the same marketing agency. When he found out my book was going to be published we bonded over his ideas for illustrations. We have similar sensibilities.”
A fan of cartoonist and author Shel Silverstein, Biondo became influenced by Silverstein’s primitive style, especially in his books such as “Falling Up.”
“When I first read Justin’s poem, “Inhaling Kitty Litter Dust,” his words just jumped off the page,” says Biondo. “It was so easy to create the images.”
Currently teaching English and Writing at Villa Maria College, near Buffalo, Karcher professes an admiration for Jack Kerouac, who lived in Orlando and in St Petersburgh.
“My college dissertation was about Kerouac and he’s always been a great influence on me. I always felt by being in Florida you can slow down your life, figure things out. That was true for Kerouac and it’s true for me.”
Sam must not be speaking again. Well, one day,
Sam and I will break into the Advance Auto Parts
And steal from their superior selection of jumper cables,
So we can jumpstart our lives.
We’re Worse than Frankenstein’s Monster
To order “Tailgating From the Gates of Hell and Other Poems, go to:
For more information about Michael Biondo’s work, go to: www.BiondoArt.com