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American Poet: A Novel Paperback – February 24, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


In addition to narrating the fine novel you're now holding, Denver Hoptner (Jeff Vande Zande's particularized composite of hundreds of thousands of young writers adrift in America today) does something, something of consequence, and does it without thinking (just as real poetry can't be simply thought into being). A friend of his tells him, "You made the symbol real." By way of Vande Zande's passion, American Poet reaches through the ramifying shadow of Theodore Roethke to the hoped-for communal force of poetry itself. Denver's story has hurt me into feeling uncomfortably young and vulnerable again, but this time that young self of mine has been understood. -William Heyen

"This coming-of-age tale centers on a young poet, who is ill-prepared for and frustrated by the hometown he returns to, where he fights with his father and with himself. Set against the backdrop of a broken city and a failed relationship, the novel champions poetry and the underdog--whether it be our seemingly--incompetent narrator, a baseball team, or a failing non-profit. With American Poet, Jeff Vande Zande has written a love poem for the city of Saginaw, and, by extension, a love poem for Flint, Gary, Cleveland, or any forgotten city in the Rust Belt." -Gina Myers

Book Description

Set in Saginaw, Michigan, home of poet Theodore Roethke, we follow a young man's journey as he seeks to find himself and finds as well poetry, family, and America.|American Poet: A Novel by Jeff Vande Zande

Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Bottom Dog Press (February 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933964537
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933964539
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,032,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeff Vande Zande teaches English at Delta College and writes poetry, fiction, and screenplays. His books of fiction include Emergency Stopping and Other Stories (Bottom Dog Press), the novel Into the Desperate Country (March Street Press), the novel Landscape with Fragmented Figures (Bottom Dog Press) and Threatened Species and Other Stories (Whistling Shade Press). His poetry has also been collected into a book, and one of his poems was selected by Ted Kooser to appear in Kooser's syndicated newspaper column, American Life in Poetry. His most recent book is a novel entitled American Poet, which won the Stuart and Vernice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author and a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan. He maintains a website at

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth Khan on March 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
Before I share my impressions of this book, I need to make a few disclosures:
I have a history with Saginaw. I have a history with poetry. I have a history with a non-profit's struggle for funding. So, while I am not exactly your average, objective reader, I enjoyed this book for reasons over and above, and chances are, so will you.

On the face of it, this is a simple story: college graduate unable to find employment moves back home, drifts for a while in a town he has outgrown, failing to get through to his father (and vice versa), until he finds a cause close to his heart.
Oh, but there are so many treats stored away in this book. While I recognized many things from my Saginaw days, I learned just as many new facts about it in these pages. Obviously, Saginaw stands for so many towns, in Michigan and elsewhere, struggling for relevance, for survival in this protracted economic downturn, just as Denver Hoptner, the protagonist, stands for so many young people leaving college and having to face the real world with a "useless" degree.
Coming from Europe, where as a rule everything old is preserved, updated, and repurposed, I have often been shocked at the disregard for the historical and cultural patrimony that leads to twenty-year-old buildings being torn down because they are "dated." Living in Michigan for close to a quarter century has taught me that every "boring" Midwestern town has a hidden history worth looking into.
Denver and Lee Hoptner's uneasy father-son relationship is endearingly rendered, without crossing into sentimentality. Their disagreement about the pronunciation of poet Theodore Roethke's last name made me smile (and brought back memories of taking my kids to swim and ride the miniature train at Roethke Park).
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Format: Paperback
Jeff Vande Zande is an astonishingly fine writer. He gave us clues in his previous works of fiction - INTO THE DESPARATE COUNTRY, LANDSCAPE WITH FRAGMENTED FIGURES, THREATENED SPECIES AND OTHER STORIES - intimations of the strength of his talent, but none of these prepares us for the level of sophistication found in the writing of AMERICAN POET. Not only is his story as interesting as it is constructed, but it opens a window into that garden of the great American writers - those who have the ability to take a piece of this country and define it in a way that demonstrates what makes this us all unique. Not that the story fails to be universal: the struggle of a poet to find his voice in a place thought to be as unlikely a nidus for inspiration as his hometown is not peculiar to America. In some ways Vande Zande's story suggests Thomas Wolfe's YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN' and LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL and alludes to the spirit of other novels by the greats of the past. But more important than that is the fact that Jeff Vande Zande has found his own secure voice and the reader is left at book's end with that sense of enrichment that all great literature should offer.

Denver Hoptner, having failed to make the mark with his poetry the way that his on again off again girlfriend Heather succeeded in doing after they finished college and having been dismissed from a library job because of his lack of a degree in Library Science, returns to his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan - beaten, disillusioned, and being forced to live in the basement of his distant father's home (his mother who gave birth to him just before she entered menopause is dead). Denver, both as a child and as an adult, would rather spend his days and evenings reading, but his reality focused retired father insists he be employed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tom Rombouts on July 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
Jeff Vande Zande has crafted a rich blend of youthful idealism, literary history, parental relations and stubborn determination set against the colorful backdrop of Saginaw, Michigan. As someone who spent their first 21 years in Michigan, I enjoyed how he took a city and area that has suffered somewhat of a decline in recent years and used it as a setting for a story based largely on optimism and hope. And hey, you've got to love any book that has the "Beans Bunny" on its cover!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kurt O. Landefeld on April 26, 2014
Format: Paperback
I read this in a single sitting. I was impressed with Vande Zande's weaving of a minor, Cleveland-born poet, d.a. levy, with a major Saginaw-born poet, Theodore Roethke ("ret-key" we are finally assured) into a very real, very poignant tale of a young man trying to find his place in the world. This is an entertaining, informative and, ultimately, inspiring story. Don't let the relative slimness fool you. 'American Poet' doesn't waste a line.
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