Red Shuttleworth

By Jacob Collins

Boxer and poet Red Shuttleworth’s poetry collection, Straight Ahead, transports its readers to the dusty, forgotten landscape of the western wilderness. Shuttleworth captures this landscape on page in vivid detail and colorful words. This is a rocky land full of coyotes, loss, and “sunflower-tinged dying clouds,” where “the rosy curtain of dusk falls on sagebrush, / silent as something buried-by-hand decades ago” and “the sun gouges an irrigated cropland horizon.” When you read Straight Ahead, it is as though you are out west, wilderness all around you and vibrant sky above. You can feel the oppressive sun beating down on you, hear the coyotes howling in the distance, smell the smoke and whiskey.

But Shuttleworth does more than simply describe the landscape in captivating five-line poems. He instills in this collection a sense of mourning for what the western wilderness has become. As urban areas have expanded, the wilderness has been torn apart, broken down until “you can shake / funeral ashes from the pockets of bankers, / realtors, developers: crazy drooling at ranch houses.” Along with this loss of the wilderness comes the loss of youth an innocence, which “gets left behind like coils of rusty barbed wire / on aged-loose, wobbly corral posts.” Shuttleworth doesn’t just describe this mournfulness to his readers, however. He actively puts his readers into the shoes of one who has lost much in their life, telling them “You’re sober these days, clumsy though, / a sun-scorched, one dog-short, thirsty / old man, blood in your glacier-water eyes.” With only a few lines, Shuttleworth manages to convey a whole life of hardship and loss that any reader will feel deep in their bones.

Shuttleworth masterfully evokes images of a beautiful, dying landscape and fills it with a harrowing mournfulness. Even readers who have never had the chance to lay eyes upon the old western wilderness will feel as though they are there. Straight Ahead leaves readers longing for the wilderness, mourning for its loss even if they’ve never properly known it. Through many small glances into this landscape, Shuttleworth paints a grand picture of a land all but forgotten to time.

You can find Straight Ahead and many more poetry collections here.