In a voice at times electrified by caustic cynicism, at other times stripped bare by grief, Casey Thayer’s Rational Anthem offers wry tribute to “the greatest country God could craft with the mules he had / on hand.” In seeking to tell the story of the ragged world around him, Thayer examines the links among flag-waving populism, religious fervor, and toxic masculinity. Here male intimacy—among childhood friends, between father and son, and in the tenuous bonds between young adults—generally finds acceptance only when expressed through a shared passion for guns and hunting: “I helped my father clean his hands with field grass, / convinced we had shared a moment / in rolling the internal organs out of the abdomen.”
In “How-To,” the book’s closer—a mash-up of instructions from active-shooter trainings attended by the poet—Thayer grasps at strategies for surviving a world where we have come to see school shootings as routine: “Grab a textbook, they instructed my child, and hug it to your chest over your heart.”
Formally deft and lyrically dense, Rational Anthem asks why we find it so hard to change the stories we keep repeating.
About the Author
Casey Thayer is the author of Self-Portrait with Spurs and Sulfur and Love for the Gun. His work has appeared in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. He lives in Chicago.
“Casey Thayer’s Rational Anthem tangles with the multi-fisted specter of masculinity, yet veers into tenderness and insight with a deftness that startles. It’s a book of sharp, unforgiving edges and truths unveiled—all crafted with a canny lyricism that makes those truths shine new.” —Patricia Smith, Series Editor
“Casey Thayer is doing the hard work, wrapping hands around raw elegy and deeply entrenched traditions of violence in order to lift them to the surface. This is a stunning collection.” —Sandra Beasley, author of Made to Explode
“Agile, musical, and tender, the poems in Rational Anthem move gracefully between states of irony, rage, humor, and grief. I love how this collection demonstrates how love mustn’t be simple or untroubled to be deep.” —Sarah Rose Nordgren, author of Darwin’s Mother
“Casey Thayer’s latest collection, Rational Anthem, is a meditation on American patriotism and the particular brand of masculinity that comes with it. Warm-blooded, charged with emotional intensity as well as wry humor, Rational Anthem takes on the very topics that increasingly divide our political discourse. … Rational Anthem calls on us to sustain our outrage. For as much as we might like to forget these senseless tragedies, change is only possible if we refuse to deaden or succumb to our despair. This is the true genius of Thayer’s collection— its capacity to hold devastation against insight, beauty against brutality, to encourage its readers to fight but not without reminding them of what they’re fighting for.” —Laura Morrison Roth, The Colorado Review, October 2022