Poems by Arthur Russell
« Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner »
In his chapbook, At the Car Wash, Arthur Russell investigates and cross-examines his experiences growing up and working in his family’s small business, a car wash located in Brooklyn, New York. The poems begin with the physical plant and the men who work there, and the family relationships, particularly Russell’s relationship with his father, the inventor of the conveyorized car wash and the owner of the business. The voice is often unsparingly frank, as in “How to Replace a Toilet,” and sometimes lyrical, as in “Mom Would Be a Cardinal.” The poems find their evocative power and resonance in Russell’s willingness to drill down deeply into the minutiae of everyday life in an unquestionably unromantic setting and to find both beauty and belonging. As he says in the final line of “The Jetty,” the final poem in the book— “I will never leave this place.”
From the Author
I thought I could escape my father and his car wash in Brooklyn, run away to Manhattan and succeed as an actor or as a writer and never have to reckon, as an adult, with his cruel opinions of people and the world, but I fell back into his orbit and worked closely with him for many years, and when I did escape, it was only through the door that led to law school, the profession he had chosen for all three of his children, possibly because he had dropped out of law school himself. At the Car Wash is a book of poems written over the last eight years, poems that I continue writing beyond the work between these covers, dredging, sorting, reordering and sometimes celebrating, but always reckoning, almost forty years on, with the reckoning that made me.
• “Message from Goldberg, the Landlord with Crutches” in Rattle (online)
• “Summer Afternoon” in Rattle (online)
• “The Whales Off Manhattan Beach Breaching in Winter” in Brooklyn Poets (
Praise for the Book
While there have been countless poets laureate of countries and states, there is only one poet laureate I know of the car wash, and that is Arthur Russell, who sings of his father’s Hollywood Car Wash on Coney Island Avenue as if it were something out of Dante’s Divine Comedy: part hell, part purgatory and even, strangely, part paradise. He evokes the world of the car wash—the characters, the objects, the rituals, the stories, the speech—with a physical precision and emotional nuance that make these poems unforgettable. Here you’ll find Freddie Rogers, who “could spin a damp towel on his finger / as if it were a terrycloth pizza” and “Pete Watson’s scalp / with its dandruff and scabs, / and the minor popped release” as the young poet, tasked by his father, “lifted the surgical knots / of his stitches free / of the amber crust // around the wound.” Russell may also be the poet laureate of father-son poems, despite the many contenders for this title. There is a timeless singularity to his poems of old South Brooklyn and working-class life that gives them the feel of classics from a bygone era. Poems like “Burning Garbage,” “The Whales Off Manhattan Beach” and “The Jetty” are among the very best the borough of Brooklyn has to offer. “I will never leave this place,” Russell writes at the end of “The Jetty,” and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
—Jason Koo, author of More Than Mere Light
About the Author
Arthur Russell comes from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He works as an attorney and landlord in New Jersey. He has received writing fellowships from Syracuse University and The Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, won Brooklyn Poets Poem of the Year in 2015, and was runner up for the Allen Ginsburg Poetry Award for 2021. He serves on the board of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets, co-leads their weekly workshop, and co-hosts their monthly readings.
Cover art by Timothy Green
Cover price: $6.00
Chapbook: 48 pages
Size: 6″ x 9″