Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, May 23, 2016

Shane McCrae, _The Animal Too Big to Kill_

McCRAE'S FOURTH BOOK, but the first I have read, and I read it rather rapidly, as he was in town for a reading. I may have missed some nuances...let's say I certainly missed some nuances...but I did enjoy it.

McCrae often uses a kind of start-stop-start again phrasing, as in the opening lines of the book:

I haven't Lord I haven't You I have-
n't praised enough You Lord although I with or would
With every poem praise You every    breath and [...]

I wonder if this is supposed to re-create the effect of digital sampling circa late 80s and early 90s, but it most reminded me of Eliot's "Ash Wednesday," especially given the religious (even somewhat penitential) cast of the language. Eliot's poem (as you probably remember) begins:

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn

The language of prayer persists throughout the volume, but the tonality is elusive. As with Eliot in "Ash Wednesday," the religious turn seems in response to something traumatic, not so much the fading embers of an ecstatic vision as sheer weary amazement at having survived a disaster.

The disaster may have been familial.  Several poems begin "Growing up black white trash," a phrase that gradually acquires a homey familiarity like "It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon," while also evoking a childhood of unguessable damage and pain. 

Something cathartic does happen, though, in "The Seven Last Words of Christ," a long poem that accounts for most of the second half of the book. Odd though it is that the same book might remind one of both T. S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg, "The Seven Last Words of Christ" has something of the power of Ginsberg's "Kaddish," a dark tribute from a loving son to a complex mother, marbled with religious language, torqued with the stresses of faith.

No comments: