Announcing the September 2012 publication of

Park Songs

A poem/play by David Budbill

with photographs by R. C. Irwin

 $14.95 / 112 pages / 14 b&w photographs /

Trade Paperback Original ISBN: 978-1-935259-16-9 / eBook ISBN: 978-1-935259-17-6

Distributed to the trade by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution: 1-800-283-3572

Exterminating Angel Press 1892 Colestin Road Ashland, Oregon 97520 Tel: (541) 482-8779

Media Contact: Molly Mikolowski, (612) 728-1692,

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“David Budbill is a no-nonsense free-range sage.”

New York Times

“One of the most readable American poets ever”


“As accessible as a parking lot and as plain as a pair of Levi’s.”


“It takes a fine poet with a good ear and an open heart to express such truths.”

—Vermont Public Radio

“Budbill both informs and moves. He is, in short, a delight and a comfort.”

—Wendell Berry



Park Songs opens up the intersections of poetry and performance  . . . the plainness of the language is deceptive. [This] rhythmic and vernacular play [is] surprisingly evocative.”

RAIN  TAXI, Spring 2013
Lynette Reini-Grindell

for the complete review go to:

Best known for clear, sweet poems, [Budbill] is also a playwright, and his new work is first and last, as he says, ‘raw material that could be a play’: an array of dialogues among the vagrants, pedestrians, passers-by, and hard-luck cases of an urban park. . . . In language that recalls the 1930s, the guys and the couple of ladies around the park debate how to be happy, how to get by with less, and how to make poems that feel true.


October 22, 2012

 for the complete review go to:

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Budbill’s latest collection, Park Songs, demonstrat[es] that he is above all a poet of place . . . [and of] the power of place to mark us, hold us, and bind us to one another . . . The language here is so familiar and conversational, its simplicity detains the reader, inviting us to consider the poetry of everyday speech. . . He ingeniously borrows the authority of the playwright to get away with speaking in a grittier and more guttural register. . . .

Abby Paige
December 11, 2012

for the complete review go to:

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Budbill captures the essence of human communication – the misunderstandings and connections, hurts and expectations.

Deb Baker
Concord, New Hampshire

September 9, 2012

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David Budbill is a poet and playwright known for his accessibility and sense of playful humor. . . . The soliloquies and verbal interactions, presented in the course of one day [in this urban park], provide insight into the variety of personalities at work and force readers to reflect on how much we can know—and learn—through our discussions. Also at issue is how much can be misunderstood.

Jennifer Fandell
September 2012

for the complete review go to:

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 “[An] ultra-American twist on Beckettian terseness . . . Park Songs is full of idiomatic vernacular and candid, imperfect syntax, which contribute to a down-to-earth plainspokenness. These seem like people we can connect with, and it’s refreshing (as Budbill’s work generally is) to be offered regular ol’ simple beauty in place of incomprehensible, postmodern mumbo-jumbo.”

Keenan Walsh
October 17, 2012

for the complete review go to:

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 [PARK SONGS is a] beautiful, tragic-funny book. . .  David Budbill’s writing is not just art, it’s a philosophical call to arms for readers to wake up to the world, to go ahead and risk feeling both the pain and the pleasure of being awake. Park Songs is an entertaining read and also one to make you think. It stayed with me and I can feel it connecting with other things I’ve read, helping me live with more heart, helping me notice things.

Deb Baker
August 31, 2012

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I adored this exploration of community and personalities, as well as levels of sanity and security. Budbill was able to crisply portray various voices, and the spin of characters in and out of the spotlight . . .



Sep 8, 2012

for complete review go to:


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Budbill takes the reader to an open space in a city where denizens of a park meet, greet, muse, confuse, reach out and step away. Budbill’s characters speak to all of us. . . Kudos to Budbill for choosing a city park – the great meeting ground of rich and poor, different races, different politics, and different lifestyles – to highlight human needs, foibles, and concerns. . . . PARK SONGS will speak on even after the closing scene.


Sep 16, 2012

for complete review go to:


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for an interview with David Budbill conducted by with Marissa Bell Toffoli

go to:

Words With Writers, October 7, 2012

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A “tale of the tribe” (Ezra Pound’s phrase for his own longer work), Park Songs is set in a down-and-out Midwestern park where people from all walks of life gather. In this small green space surrounded by a great gray city, the park provides a refuge for its caretaker (and resident poet), street preachers, retirees, moms, hustlers, and teenagers. Interspersed with blues songs, the community speaks through poetic monologues and conversations, while the homeless provide the introductory chorus—their collective voices becoming an epic tale of comedy and tragedy.

Full of hard-won wisdom, unexpected humor, righteous (if occasionally misplaced) anger, and sly tenderness, their stories show us how people learn to live with mistakes and make connections in an antisocial world. As the poem/play engages us in their pain and joy—and the goofy delight of being human—it makes a quietly soulful statement about desire, acceptance, and community in our lives.


Praise for Judevine (the rural precursor to Park Songs)

“Wrenchingly real, fiercely emotional and unexpectedly funny.”

Chicago Sun-Times

“At once tough and tender [and] not afraid to tell hard stories with a warm heart.”

Boston Globe

“Glows with a contagious compassion.”

Chicago Tribune

“Dramatic story-telling with rare honesty, affection and grace—and with language so precise and descriptive you will know immediately you’re soul-deep in something extraordinary.”

Los Angeles Daily News

“[A] beautifully tender combination of theatre and poetry. Budbill presents us with a vision of ourselves.

—Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“An astonishing variety of characters. We come to care deeply about them and to see the dignity inherent in the humblest of human beings.”

Chicago Reader


About the Author and Photographer

DAVID BUDBILL has worked as a carpenter’s apprentice, short order cook, Christmas tree farm day laborer, mental hospital attendant, church pastor, teacher, and occasional commentator on NPR’s All Thing Considered. He is also the award-winning author of twelve books of poems, six plays, a novel, a collection of short stories, an opera libretto, and a picture book for children. His books include the bestselling Happy Life (Copper Canyon Press) and Judevine, a collection of narrative poems that forms the basis for Judevine: The Play, which has been performed in twenty-two states. Budbill was born in Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in the mountains of northern Vermont.

R. C. IRWIN, whose absurdist and nostalgic work provides the set design for Park Songs, teaches at San Francisco City College.


  • Listen to Garrison Keillor read poems by David Budbill on the Writer’s Almanac:
  • Listen to an interview with David Budbill on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition (including a clip from the Lost Nation Productions performance of his play A Song for My Father):
  • Read David Budbill’s blog, view video performances, and listen to more radio interviews at:

For more from David Budbill about Park Songs and his working class background, please read on.


 A Conversation with David Budbill

Q: You’ve described Park Songs as an urban version of Judevine, which was set in the impoverished hill country of rural New England. Park Songs takes place in a rundown Midwestern park, which one character refers to derisively as a “human being parking lot.” How did the shift in setting change the way you approached this poem/play (or the voices within it)?

A: Well, long before I was a country boy, I was a city boy. I grew up in Cleveland. I also lived for seven years in New York City. I’ve always written monologues and dialogues—I’m a playwright—so this kind of book just came naturally to me. My own background and the way I write made it so that I really didn’t have to change the way I approached this poem/play. 

Q: You grew up in Cleveland. Do you ever think about returning to the city?

A: All the time. I honestly think I could go back there to live. On the other hand, I’m such a country boy now, I don’t think it would work.

Q: The Occupy movement, which has spread to parks and other public spaces in cities across the country, first sprang to being in September 2011 as people gathered in New York City’s Zuccotti Park to protest economic inequality. Park Songs, which you’ve been writing for fifteen years, is very much about the lives—and communities—of the disenfranchised. Were you tempted to make any overt references to the movement?

A: It never occurred to me. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the Occupy movement and the principles it stands for, but I was living and preaching about those principles long before the Occupy movement began. As you said yourself, I’ve been writing about people like the people in this park for a long time.

Q: One of the funniest sections—a Monty Python-esque scene called “Let’s Talk” in which a character vehemently complains (to an attentive listener) that no one will listen to her—also makes a deeply affecting statement about human loneliness and desire. What is the role of humor in Park Songs?

A: All I know is, I can’t live my life without humor and neither can my characters. In “Let’s Talk” specifically I was trying to get at how we hide behind words, how we use words to obscure, not clarify, things. In the end, the two characters realize this and just sit there. This scene also gives me the chance to be funny with words, just be funny, which I always love being and which is a great balm for human loneliness.

Q: Why did you decide to include traditional blues songs? And how do you see the R. C. Irwin photographs complementing the text?

A: I’ve loved the blues and jazz for sixty years. I perform with jazz musicians. And when I came across those two old blues tunes, lyrics that Odetta found, I knew I had to use them somehow, someway, someday. Both those blues fit right into the themes of this poem/play.

There’s an absurdist aspect to Irwin’s pictures. I began my playwriting career, if you want to call it that, heavily influenced by Ionesco, Pinter, etc. I think there’s a crazy, wild aspect to the photographs that fits nicely with the crazy, wild people who inhabit this park.

Q: Is there any advice you’d like to give actors involved in a stage production or film of Park Songs?

A: Enjoy the characters. Even though their predicaments in life are not the best, they are surviving and having some fun along the way too—which is what I’d say we are all doing. Actors should do the same.

Q: In an interview with Vermont Public Radio, you said you wanted your work to be clearly understood the first time it was read, but also be open to new interpretations during the second and third readings. What lies below the surface in Park Songs for close readers to discover?

A: The lives of the people who speak the words of the play, and what those lives say about the structure of our society.

Q: Howard Zinn wrote, “What most of us must be involved in—whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do—has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.” Do you believe this is an artist’s responsibility?

A: Heck yeah. Why not? Seriously, the artist’s first responsibility—in this case the writer’s—is to tell a good story sympathetically and with passion and commitment. Then it is to try to, as Zinn says, “change the world.”


David Budbill”s Background

(adapted from a speech given in 1987 and updated in 2012)

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in l940.

My mother was a Methodist minister’s daughter who quit high school in her senior year, and, although she never did get a high school diploma, she maintained, throughout her life, an active interest in ideas and politics, and when I left home to go to college, she immediately gave up her life as “homemaker,” joined The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and went out and got a full time job.

My father, the abused son of an alcoholic cabinetmaker, quit school in the 8th grade to go to work as a bag boy in a grocery store to help support his family of three sisters and a mother, his father being often incapable of maintaining the household, and subsequently my father never returned to any formal education. When I was born my father was a motorman for the Cleveland Railway System; he drove a streetcar. My father said to me again and again, “Stick up for the little guy, Bud.”

Of my uncles, my uncle Judy sorted mail at the Post Office; uncle Freddy ran a metal lathe in a factory, uncle Riley worked as a minor official in a metal polishers union local in Cleveland and uncle Bill was a traveling salesman

Everyone thought this traveling salesman uncle, uncle Bill, was more successful, that is, somehow further up the ladder, than the other uncles because he sold school supplies. I think everyone thought that because he worked more or less on his own and out of his car and traveled around and did not carry a dinner pail—he ate his lunches out in restaurants, sometimes with clients—that he was better, smarter than the others. And he traveled from school to school, he had to talk to teachers and principals and everyone knew that to do that he had to speak well, be charming and articulate, have good grammar, in other words, because he sold school supplies, the circumstances of the job must have worn off on him, given him a better education. Surely his job was better than stamping out fenders for cars or working in the heat and filth of a blast furnace or stuffing mail in little pigeon holes at the Post Office all day long.

Of my aunts, when they worked outside the home at all, they worked as domestics or waitresses or in print shops, running presses or addressograph machines, or they worked on assembly lines just like their husbands, all, that is, except my Aunt Grace who not only had graduated from high school but had gone to college for a year and was an elementary school teacher. But then, she was married to my uncle Bill, the school supplies salesman, which just proved that uncle Bill was smarter and more successful than the rest. After all, he married a teacher.

Almost everyone I knew as a child was a member of what then was called The Working Class. They worked, along with masses of other people, for someone else. Almost none of them had graduated from high school and none of them, except my Aunt Grace, had gone to college.

These people, the people of The Working Class, considered going to college a right of passage, a ticket into a different and better world, a world where you could make more money, do less damage to your body, stay cleaner on the job and sweat less, where you could do something that had a little creativity to it, that demanded you use your mind and imagination, that, in short, was not so thunderously, deadeningly boring as so many factory jobs were. It meant you could become more than just another cog in the gigantic, industrial machine of modern America. And, perhaps most importantly, it meant that you could get yourself some respect. People would admire you, you’d get status, dignity, you’d be something more than just a laboring stiff, just another speck among the millions of insect-like humanoid creatures who kept the mills and factories of industrial America going. Going to college meant raising yourself above all that, above the mass of laboring humanity, above your parents. It meant getting ahead.

But raising yourself above your parents meant inevitably separating yourself from them also and from the rest of The Working Class out of which you had sprung.

On the day I graduated from college, which might have been the proudest day in my father’s life, after the ceremonies were over and we were all milling about and standing around on the lawn outside the gymnasium in the June heat, my father shook my hand; he was beaming from ear to ear and he said, “Well, congratulations, Bud, you did it.” Then his countenance changed and he grew angry and resentful. He pulled his hand away and said, “What’s your trade? What are you prepared to do?”

This admiration for and suspicion of education that The Working Class had, and still has, I think, created a tension in my life that has stayed with me to this day. And to make matters worse, by the time I graduated from college, it was clear to me that I wanted to be a writer, an artist, a poet, for god’s sake, of all things. What could be worse, more useless, less profitable, a greater waste of an education than to become an artist, and a poet no less.

When I became an artist, I created in myself an overwhelming and sometimes unbearable tension between my populist, egalitarian, common, ordinary, Working Class attitudes and background and the unfortunate, and I mean disgusting, attitudes of the elitist world of art in America.

I am the son of a streetcar driver from Cleveland, Ohio. Yet I became an artist, that species of creature who spends his or her life dreaming and making things into existence, things, which we say, in our pomposity, are for the benefit of all humans.

An arts council button announces: “Art is for Everybody.” Ah, would that it were true. It is not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Art is produced for and consumed by a tiny, only sometimes well-intentioned, often arrogant, elite within our society, and that elite uses art as one of its means to separate and distinguish itself from the mass of humanity.

I have never felt comfortable with my life as an artist because it separates and alienates me from the people out of which I come, from the people I love more than any other, from the mass of humanity that the world sees as merely plain, ordinary and completely without distinction. On the other hand those people I love the most are the least interested in what I make as an artist. Why should they be interested? They know that one of the reasons I became an artist was to leave them behind, to rise above them; they know, as I do, that art is a useful means to the end of separating and distinguishing oneself from that insect-like mass of humanity marching off to the factory.

In short, I live suspended between The Working Class, peasant world of my birth and the elite world of the arts into which, because of my own secret loves and insecurities, I have insinuated myself.

I find both worlds irresistible. I love both and I hate both, and because of that I have chosen to live both physically and artistically on the edge of the world of art. I have worked it out in my life so that I am simultaneously an outcast from and a part of the world of art in America.