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Wyatt Earp: A Poetic Narrative of a Wild Life in the Wild West by Larry Beckett

Wyatt Earp: A Poetic Narrative of a Wild Life in the Wild West by Larry Beckett Wyatt Earp header banner

Wyatt Earp
Poetic Narrative of a Wild Life in the Wild West by Larry Beckett

Wyatt Earp cover artwork

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“A whip-smart and vivid masterpiece scattershot and peppered throughout with lines that crackle like a prairie wildfire.”
—Hosho McCreesh,
author of Chinese Gucci

Wyatt Earp is more than a legend; he’s the embodiment of the American Wild West. It’s easy to reduce a man of such stature to mere stereotypes and iconoclasm, to leave out the women who inspired him, or to rely on the slander of those he defeated; but forgoing the myths, wordsmith Larry Beckett skirts the overwrought icon and gives us instead the aches, loves, and morals of the flesh-and-blood human.

Wyatt Earp follows the famed lawman and his historic posse through the streets of Tombstone, in a natural five-act tragedy: the western zone, rise of the outlaws and hero, the showdown, fall of the outlaws and hero, the vendetta ride. In striking prose poetry that makes use of Earp’s own words, Beckett has mined newspapers, from Tombstone’s Epitaph to the San Francisco Examiner, Earp’s written testimonies, and biographer interviews to get to the humanity behind the folklore.

Wyatt Earp was a man of his word, committed to the law, who faced his father, armed mobs, assassins, and, as his companion Doc Holliday says: he walked right in. But he also believed in peace and did all he could to avoid violence. Antithesis makes myths of American men, and as his friend Bat Masterson says: the story of Wyatt Earp is the story of the West.

Winner of the 2019 Electric Book Award

Content warnings: gun violence (mild, poetic)

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•The ePUB eBook version is listed in the OverDrive catalogue.
•The print version is listed in the Ingram catalogue.
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Praise for Wyatt Earp

“Whoever said that the long poem is dead, was dead wrong. Larry Beckett’s elegant, hefty Wyatt Earp proves that the extended poetical narrative is alive and well and still kicking up its heels, spurs and all. Mining history, legend, and biography, Beckett has reinvented the American West and recreated one of its best-known gunfighters and lawmen, world-famous for his role during the deadly shootout at the O.K. Corral. Almost everyone who grew up watching Gunsmoke, Have Gun—Will Travel, and Maverick will enjoy Beckett’s journey back in time. In Wyatt Earp, the landscapes feel authentic, the frontier towns seem as alive and dangerous as ever, and the voices of the Old West echo loudly and clearly. Beckett’s poem is a hoot that provides real entertainment from beginning to end, and all the way through. If you have to get out of Dodge, or some other dusty town or derelict city, take Beckett’s Wyatt Earp with you, and leave your six-guns at home.”
—Jonah Raskin,
author of American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and the Making of the Beat Generation

“Decades in the making with whiskey, gunsmoke, and trail dust enough to catch in your desert-parched throat, this whip-smart and vivid masterpiece breathes new and rarefied air into its re-envisioning of the Earp legend. Scattershot and peppered throughout with lines that crackle like a prairie wildfire, Beckett delivers both a Beat and gritty epic rich with spit-blood and ferocious poetic detail and a magnum opus few ever even dream of attempting. Honestly, you’d have to be a madman to try such a book—much less to pull it off—but Beckett is exactly the gunman for the job. A highwater mark and instant addition not only to his canon but to American poetry writ large.”
—Hosho McCreesh,
author of A Deep & Gorgeous Thirst

“From his beginnings in the 1960s writing lyrics, through his more recent down-to-earth academic-level explorations of the Beat Generation writers, to this new epic-length prose poem about Wild West icon Wyatt Earp, writer Larry Beckett has captured America in all of its manifestations—cultural, political, and historical. He and his writing are beautiful.”
—Pat Thomas,
author of Did It! Jerry Rubin: An American Revolutionary and producer of Allen Ginsberg’s The Last Word on First Blues

“Larry Beckett’s Wyatt Earp is a work for the ages, an American epic, vivid, alive, and utterly compelling. This heroic song of the West as prose poem unfolds with strength, vigor, and sovereign originality. Like the American “West” for whom its protagonist stands as metaphor, Beckett’s Wyatt invents itself. In refreshing contrast to recent serious longform poetry, this anti-cow-boy saga succeeds without a whiff of meta-discourse, though that is abundantly available to the analytic reader. In Earp, Beckett has created that rare sustained poem whose primary material simply thrills. By substituting rhetorical devices for metric repetition, and by drawing out the sonorities and tonalities of Earp’s distinctly western voice via notably de-punctuated dialogue, this Tombstone Homeric brings a remarkable new way of telling into the American tradition. Like Melville’s potent incorporation of whalemen’s speech into Moby-Dick; Whitman’s long lines; William Carlos Williams’ capture of the poetry inherent in Paterson’s vernacular; Kerouac’s steaming and streaming bop prosody; the taut telegraphic dialogue of film noir; and Tom Wolfe’s Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Beckett’s epic markedly expands the bound and prospect of the American tongue. If you want a poem that will take and ever change you, walk through Tombstone with Wyatt Earp.”
—Marc Zegans,
author of La Commedia Sotterranea and The Book of Clouds

“The languages and landscapes that Larry Beckett captures in Wyatt Earp are intricately drawn and bitingly original. Here is a poet embracing that Brautigan beat attitude before taking us swiftly and deftly, as quickly as Earp’s draw, off into the Sonoran Desert and into barrooms “after midnight, when the aces burn off, and the pharaoh rules in the down and out dynasties.” This collection digs deep into character and style with wit and a deep understanding of Earp to reveal a world teetering off “in the distance between desire and consummation.”
—Michael Garrigan,
author of Robbing the Pillars

“The poems in Larry Beckett’s Wyatt Earp simmer and hiss, conjuring the sounds and imagery of the Old West. You can almost hear the rattle of a sidewinder and the jangly chime of spurs on outlaw boots walking the dirt streets of Tombstone, see tumbleweeds twisting in dusty wind and the flash of gunmetal under an unforgiving sun. This spectacular, historic collection is cinematic and wild, full of whiskey-drenched tavern tales and swaggering shootouts, all loaded like a gunslinger’s pine box on an eerie, anachronistic ghost train of Beat poetry.”
—V. C. McCabe,
author of Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot

“This is the absolute real deal, full of prose flavor that reads like Faulkner, but with a wild, unbridled style all its own.”
—Eric Shonkwiler,
author of Above All Men, 8th Street Power & Light, and Moon Up, Past Full

About Wyatt Earp

• Longform Narrative Poem
• Published by Alternating Current Press
• 5” x 8” Perfectbound Trade Paperback
• Cream Paper, 138 Pages
• Also Available in PDF, ePUB, Mobi, and mp3 Digital Formats
• Print ISBN-13: 978-1-946580-17-7
• Print ISBN-10: 1946580171
• Kindle ASIN: B089QR7YDP
• First Edition: March 3, 2020
Permalink | Short URL: tinyurl.com/wyattpoem
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Wyatt Earp

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Reviews of Wyatt Earp


Reviewed by Paul Wilner on Zyzzyva
Listed in Entropy’s Quarantine Reading: Books You Shouldn’t Forget to Buy

About Larry Beckett

LARRY BECKETT’s poetry ranges from songs, like the modern standard “Song to the Siren,” to blank sonnets, Songs and Sonnets, published by Rainy Day Women Press, to the epic American Cycle: out of which come Paul Bunyan, from Smokestack Books, Amelia Earhart, from Finishing Line Press, and this volume. Beat Poetry is a study of the poets and poetry of the fifties San Francisco renaissance.

About cover image restorer Laura Fletcher

A daguerreotype is a photograph taken using a lengthy process that involved polishing a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish. The plate was exposed to iodine fumes to sensitize the silver, exposed in the camera, then exposed to mercury fumes to develop the image. A rinse in a saltwater solution stabilized the photo.

The plate was the photo; no duplicates could be made. In that sense it was like today’s Polaroid images, but with much more work and with exposure to dangerous chemicals. The cover image of Wyatt Earp would have been taken during the waning days of the daguerreotype, when he was in his early twenties.

I used modern digital techniques, so we can view his face clearly without taking away the feel of the original. I left the patina very much as it would have been when first taken.
—Laura Fletcher

LAURA FLETCHER is a fine art and natural-light portrait photographer. She has been in and out of the dark since she was born. Her mother, who grew up using box cameras, taught her photography from both sides of the camera. Laura thinks life is worth treasuring, and she does that through photography.

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