On “School Trip to the Vegas Strip” (#35)

In a flurry of emails sent back and forth August 15 and 16, 2009, we debated what to write for our next poem, having just finished, more or less, the tenth since March. Martin initially wanted

a volley with a meth lab I think. run in some gated community with smoke rising across the uniform lawns and witch’s brew casting a pall on paradise straddling suburbia and nothingness…

But then he realized that we had already hit the motif of drugs pretty hard in our previous poems.

Martin also wanted something more optimistic, something with more “uplifting lines” like “Bee Lust in Manhattan.” This thought led John to propose

a volley about a humble Midwestern hometown (“Maple Orchard, Iowa”? “Shady Apple, Indiana”?) where everything is improbably great: e.g., one particular entire graduating class was filled with nothing but star quarterbacks and prom queens, each of whom now operates the #1 Chevrolet dealership in the county, depending on the day of the week and from which direction one enters town; the potato-chip topping on the moms’ tuna casseroles is always crisp, never soggy.

This particular idea got no love from Martin, to John’s mild chagrin… Instead, we settled on another component of our discussion, on portraying the “alien” perspective of children. This nub of an idea would see us through our next two volleys, located in Las Vegas and Indianapolis.

“School Trip to the Vegas Strip” launches a variety of elementary-school-aged children and their chaperones into the hubbub of Sin City. Martin was able to invest the poem with a modicum of heart, his final lines prefiguring some dominant concerns of the Indianapolis poem, while John offered buffet atrocities and casino-floor games of hide-and-seek. Both of us had fun trying to reinsert ourselves into the perspectives of childhood.

“School Trip to the Vegas Strip” first appeared in Children Churches and Daddies Volume 211 (August 2010). It is the thirty-fifth poem in the final sequence of Poets’ Guide to America.

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About poetsguide

A former altar boy and a former U.S. Army interrogator, respectively, John F. Buckley and Martin Ott were born and raised in Michigan, meeting each other at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor before separately migrating to California in the early 1990s to attend graduate schools, their friendship evolving into a writing collaboration – what they refer to as poetic volleyball. They both currently live in Southern California, John with his wife, Martin with his wife and two children. John teaches English composition at several local colleges, while Martin works as a marketing strategist for a global company. John still affects a strange piety; Martin still finds himself asking a lot of questions. Individually and together, their writing has appeared in over 150 periodicals and anthologies, garnering three Pushcart Prize nominations for Martin’s poems “India Ivy” and “When Bridges Fall” (available in his collection Children of Interrogation, which has been a finalist or semi-finalist in eighteen poetry prizes) and John’s “Poem for Christy’s Daughter” (available in his collection Kinks in the Hose). Martin has also optioned three screenplays. His chapbook Misery Loves was published on Red Dancefloor Press. John’s chapbook Breach Birth was published on Propaganda Press.
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